By Artsvi Bakhchinyan
Special to the Mirror-Spectator
YEREVAN/ISTANBUL — Since his debut in choreography in 1988, Levon Taberyan has been considered an excellent dancer as well as a creative and unique choreograph. One of the largest national newspapers in Turkey testified to his unparalleled choreographic approach with the words: “The unity of music and dance coursed through our veins and each musical note appeared before our eyes in the choreography. The narrative language and color of the project were thoroughly impressive. This was an artistic festival the likes of which we have rarely ever witnessed.”
Taberyan went on to work as a choreographer for Anush in 1988, Arshın Mal Alan in 1990, Gaia in 1991, Vagvan Arvesdakedner and Bokomedi in 1992, Hin Asdvazner in 1994, 7 Kocalı Hürmüz in 1997, Kaç Kishot Don Nazar and Leblebici Horhor in 2000, Kınalı Ah Kınalı in 2003, Paralı Artin in 2004, Ah Kınalı Vah Kınalı-2 in 2005, and Hisseli Harikalar Kumpanyası in 2006.
Alongside these endeavors, Taberyan did studio work with the world-renowned modern dance creator Christie Broadback for four years. Taberyan founded the Hay Dance Modern Dance Ensemble in 1992 with 14 other young, dynamic and creative dancers, and staged his first modern dance performance in 1993. Performances received critical acclaim in Turkey, and Taberyan’s success became known outside his community. The ensemble performed for many culture and arts events as well as social support, solidarity and responsibility projects.
Sosi Ayvaz wrote the following in Kulis, a bi-monthly Armenian magazine published in Istanbul: “Levon Taberyan is a talented young man who is able to combine feelings, emotions and dance. He is very good in choosing his stuff. He chooses such emotional excerpts that along with a dance and perfect choreography emerge beautiful combinations, creating with each movement and episode a separate emotion, feeling, gift and pleasure.”
In 2010, Taberyan produced “Gomidas-İNÇU” which was a 30-minute dance narrative that peeked into the life of the renowned Armenian composer.
One of Taberyan’s most acclaimed projects was the dance theater “Anush Olmak,” which he staged in 2013 with nearly 35 dancers. The project reached out to 7500 Armenian and Turkish viewers. It was extensively covered by the Turkish-Armenian press and remained in the headlines for months.
Levon Taberyan now prepares to stage a new dance theater project. An ensemble consisting of some 30 dancers began working in November 2018. The project will make its debut in February or March of 2020…
Levon, the Istanbul Armenian community is unique with its choreography scene. While all the Armenian communities deal mainly — if not only — with traditional folk dances, the Bolsahay choreographers present the national culture through contemporary art, such as your Hai Dance (Armenian Dance) and also Arachnort (Leader) modern dance companies of Istanbul. How would you explain this phenomenon?
Using modern dance as a narrative based on our national culture is a matter of choice. I have always been impressed by music finding life in a body, whether in ballet, folk dance, modern dance, or a street performance. I began dancing with folk dances. I learned and experienced all aspects of folk dance, and slowly moved on to modern dance. I am fortunate to have begun this way.
I like to develop projects and interpret dance with full knowledge of all rules while avoiding clichés. To me, a story is told by music and figures. And my choice of figure was modern dance.
As far as I know Hai Dance was the first Armenian initiative in Istanbul in the scene of contemporary dance. What kind of difficulties did you have in composing your company?
Yes, Hai Dance was the first Armenian modern dance ensemble in Istanbul. We developed widely-appreciated projects with 14 dancers who stayed true to their amateur spirit while drawing on their extensive dance background. The most difficult part was this not being a source of income in Turkey. It was nearly impossible to find a sponsor or society to back the project in the beginning. Prospective sponsors wanted to see the end-product and then dedicate a budget to it, which meant that we would need to develop the entire project using our own means for two years, and then apply for support.
My colleagues put their faith in me and got involved with an amateur spirit. We felt rhythm of the music in our veins and that was our key takeaway. We made sure to work with an Armenian nongovernmental organization and ascribe social responsibility to everything we did.
Moving beyond traditional folk dances and using modern dance to narrate a subject, feeling or music was a fresh breath for viewers. It is always difficult to step outside the conventional. We had initiated a new era not just with modern dance, but with the music we used as well. We danced to works by Vangelis, the prodigy of New Age music, as well as Jean Michel Jarre and Kitaro. Armenian and Turkish viewers were always appreciative and supportive, which is the best payoff we could have ever had.
Who are your dancers?
Dance was my greatest passion since I was a child. I used to watch ballet on TV all day long as early as five or six. I paid attention to music, the bodies, and the narrative language. I tried to grasp the feeling. It was Levon in Wonderland back then. Being part of a magical world was utterly unbelievable. As a teenager, I realized that I was more capable of expressing my feelings through bodily movements. And music was the source of all this.
My dancers are people who share these feelings and are just as passionate as myself. They love dancing to the rhythm of music and expressing their feelings through their bodies.
Our ensemble consists of people who practice folk dancing or are trained ballet performers. Most are married with children; all have day jobs. We meet after work three times a week to practice. We have great fun while we work. I guess that is the secret: having fun while you work. It is the capability to dream, to remain a child. But of course, hard work must always be there.
How you provide the so-called national character in your movements? Are they some taboos that you put in front of you consciously?
The ethnic nature of the subjects I deal with guide me. I design dance according to the subject and music. For example, in Gomidas İNÇU and Anush Olmak, I blended the music of Armenian composers with the emotions inherent in folk dances to bring a modern take on the subject, while in Hai Dance I opted for a more universal dance and narrative that used New Age music.
My new project is an amalgamation of the two. I use the duduk pieces of the world’s best Armenian composers together with modern and universal pieces. The dance keeps up with this and sways from the traditional and folkloric to the modern and contemporary.
When I design a project, the story I pick immediately brings the music as well. The story and the music guide my movements, and choreography takes shape.
I enjoy being free, unique, and getting carried away on my dreams.
How would you appreciate the role of your wife, dancer Karin Karaoglan’s role in your art?
Karin is in an altogether different dimension. She is full of challenging, extreme and ethereal ideas. It is difficult to work with her. I prefer to stay true to our conventions and essence, but she is always after the extremes. Conflicting thoughts and opinions, and brainstorming open up the doors to being the best.
Karin also worked with Christie Broadback for many years; she both danced and trained in depicting the project narrative onstage. Her training and her worldview in dance guide us. She converts the feeling of the choreography I develop into visuals on the stage. Out of the blue, she can call for doubling or even trebling our dance movements, or freezing everything all of a sudden. She may come up with something like, add some wind into this scene, and it suddenly becomes our nightmare! Joking aside, Karin is a great dancer and is excellent at depicting emotions.
I have other guardian angels that remain anonymous. They are very special people who have utmost confidence in what I do. I have a great team. And all of it is teamwork; without that, there is no success.
Did you have any opportunity to perform for other Armenian communities and Armenia?
We were not able to perform in Armenia because we are a large group and most of us have families and jobs. But we did perform in many venues across Turkey. We took part in culture and art festivals. We also made numerous performances on invitation.
This year all Armenians celebrate the 150th anniversary of two its geniuses, Hovhannes Tumanyan and Komitas Vartabed. You staged both Anush ballet based on Tumanyan’s poem in 1988 and Gomidas. Are you going to remember them this year again?
Since we are developing a new project, we have rehearsals three days a week, and work on costume, lighting, sound and setting in the rest of the week. We would stretch ourselves too thin if we were to start another project now. Nevertheless, I would be delighted to contribute to a project that pays homage to Hovhannes Tumanyan and Gomidas Vartabed.