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To Live Is To Dance

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Shakeh Major Tchilingirian | 26.07.2018  [video clip]

To live is to dance, to dance is to live. This is my motto. I live and breathe this.


This ‘philosophy’ was confirmed yet again at the Findhorn Festival of Sacred Music, Song and Dance, held in mid-July in Scotland. I have just returned from a truly unforgettable experience of teaching and sharing Armenian sacred folk dances, with all their colours and hues, to over 100 participants during week-long daily workshops. 


The participants had taken a leap of faith, travelled from all over the world—from Germany, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Japan, India, Brazil, Argentina, USA, England, Scotland and Wales—and threw themselves into a journey of discovery. Those who have years of experience of coming together in the tradition of circle dancing supported those who were new to this powerful experience.   


At the opening session, I spoke of my intention to take everyone with me on a colourful multi-faceted journey of a celebration of life through Armenian dance. I felt like an erupting volcano and couldn’t wait to introduce them to the depth of feelings and connection with a tradition that has lived throughout the ages, with all the ups and downs of life.  


Through the dances we connected to an Armenian heritage that has a song and dance for almost every occasion in life, one that enables and allows the coming together and the sharing of a common value system of respect, faith, hope, love and compassion for one another in a closed circle.


The wealth and range of life-affirming and celebrating occasions are many: from a wedding dance, Gyovnd, where the community comes together to support and protect the newlyweds, to a Gorani, where the drums are the very heart beat that connects, sustains, heals and nurtures the community.


The Dabki, danced today by the descendants of the brave Musa Ler people, provided an elevated experience for the group. It was at the conclusion of an afternoon session on Armenian history, culture and identity—presented by my soul mate Hratch Tchilingirian—and my talk on “Armenian Dance: A Spiritual journey.” Without much instruction, we embarked on the journey of the Dabki—where the “heartbeat” of the circle is the davul, the large double-headed drum played with mallets and the soul-awakening sound of the zurna. I was sure at the outset that this would be something special. The drums did their magic.  I had so many comments by different participants at various stages in the week on the experience of the Dabki. Indeed, each occasion of dancing is unique; each dance is never danced the same way again; and that’s where the magic lies.


Dancing together for five days was a good opportunity to teach and share a variety of Armenian folk dances, including some of my own choreographies of “Garabneri bar” (Dance of the Swans), “Dou Im Yeghek” ( Reed Dance) and “Gaghardvatz Tzaghikner” (The Enchanted Flowers). Dancing by candlelight in the Universal Hall accompanied by the live, mesmerizing and enchanting music of Kostantis Kourmadias, Nikolas Angelopoulos, Tigran Alexanian and Ara Petrosyan, accompanied by Maya Buckley, was the cherry on the icing.


It was wonderful and spiritually uplifting to take part in the Findhorn Festival of Sacred Music, Dance and Song. I was honored that Anna Barton, the eminent Findhorn Sacred Dance teacher, was not only present, but took part in some of the dancing.  As she had explained, “at the Findhorn Foundation, the purpose is to enjoy dancing together in a totally non-competitive way, to learn that it is possible for everyone to dance together, young and old alike, to feel self confident in a group that is supportive rather than critical and to be able to feel a contact with the earth, the spirit and each other through the different qualities of each dance.”


I feel infinitely blessed that my path crossed with Laura Shannon in 1995 and that our dancing journeys and close friendship have blossomed ever since. She also put on a beautiful photographic exhibition of Armenia during the festival in Findhorn, a selection of photos taken during our research and recording trip to Armenia in 2001.


(interview on Armenian folk dance[video clip]


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"Sayat Nova" in London


Shakeh Major Tchilingirian | 7.10.2017


London Armenian Opera is staging Alexander Harutyunian’s (1920-2012) “Sayat Nova” opera at Questors Theatre on the 20th and 21st October 2017.


Written in 1967, the opera is a musical pastiche based on the songs of the famed Sayat Nova, the 18th c. ashough or troubadour.  Harutyunian presents the much-loved minstrel through his intense feelings, enormous musical talent and love for his homeland.


I am very excited about this fifth production of London Armenian Opera.  As choreographer and performer, I am fuly enjoying the rehearsals.  It is a pleasure meeting and collaborating with talented fellow dancer Fran Mangiascale. 


The amazing cast includes the dedicated LAO singers (an extension of my family) with Berj Karazyan, Anais Heghoyan, Aris Nadirian, Arshak Kuzikyan, Stephen Mills and Garo Karabeyekian under the masterful baton of Levon Parikian.  Natalia Sookias and Edward Sutton will be working their magic to make this production quite unlike any other ― not going to give away any secrets here.


It is a great pleasure to collaborate again with artistic director Aris Nadirian and director Seta White.  The talented duo not only flourish in their individual fields, but also continue to inspire and engage. They facilitate opportunities for enthusiasts to explore Armenian operas with a difference – with a “breath of fresh air.”  


When professionals and volunteers ― both from Armenia and the Diaspora ― come together with their passion, talents, dedication and above all love for music and dance, they create something wonderful and magical.


(video clip)    ("Sayat Nova" opera)



Remembrance Day: “Circle of Life” in Cardiff

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Shakeh Major Tchilingirian | 09.11.2015

The journey of the "Circle of Life" reached Cardiff on Saturday, 7th November, where Armenians from various places in Wales and beyond gathered, one day before Remembrance Day, at the Armenian Genocide Memorial in the Temple of Peace.  A short service was held at the Armenian khatchkar memorial and on the occasion of Remembrance Day—the day when soldiers killed during World War I are remembered in Commonwealth of Nations.  


Following the Divine Liturgy, celebrated by His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, I invited the congregation to take part in the “Circle of Life” Armenian circle dance ceremony. Conceived especially to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian Genocide,  the “Circle of Life” also celebrates the triumph of Armenians over death and destruction. After a brief demonstration of the steps to the participants, I emphasised that the dance steps did not matter as much as the intention of holding hands and taking these steps together.


The first dance was a Gorani with the soul-awakening call of the zurna and the pulsating drums. Goranis are song-dances from Mush/Daron about lost love and lost land and the yearning for them. The second dance was one typically danced by Western Armenians who are the surviving descendants of the Genocide. With its closely linked arm-hold, it was defiant, grounded and full of hope. Everyone took part in the circle dance, including the children. One of the participants said, "We felt we were getting stronger and stronger by each step we took together.”


I was moved to see so many men and women, young and old, and little children take part with such passion and commitment. They embarked on this “life” journey fully engaged. It was a great honour and joy to see Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, the Primate of the Armenian Church, Father Movses Sargsyan and Canon Patrick Thomas take part in the circle dance ceremony with everyone, offering their blessing to the Circle.


Most touching was the participation of a Syrian Armenian family, a mother, her daughter and son, who had recently arrived in Cardiff after a terrible journey—they have no news about their missing father. This added to the poignancy of the experience.  This “Circle of life” brought us, indeed, to a full circle: we remembered those who have suffered in the past and are suffering in the present and gave hope for better days ahead.

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“Circle of Life” in Honour of Karen Jeppe

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(photo by Hayk Gevorgyan)


“Circle of Life” Dance in Remembrance and Honour of Karen Jeppe

Shakeh Major Tchilingirian | 10 May 2015

The entire town of Gylling (about 300 km away from Copenhagen), the birthplace of Karen Jeppe (1876-1934), who saved and cared for thousands of Armenian orphans and women during the Armenian Genocide, came together, along with Armenians from different parts of Denmark, on 2nd May to take part in the ceremonies dedicated to this extraordinary women and great humanitarian. 

I had prepared a specially conceived “Circle of Life” dance ceremony, which brought together some 300 Danes and Armenians in the courtyard of the local school. As a celebration of Karen Jeppe’s life, we all join hands and took steps together in memory of a woman who courageously stood against oppression. 

Karen Jeppe was a daughter of the beautiful land of Denmark, but became "Eppe Mother" for the thousands of Armenians who found refuge in Aleppo. They found comfort and love under her care.  She lived with her beloved children of Armenia until the end of her life.  

The dance ritual and ceremony was dedicated to Karen Jeppe for what she did, but also for affirming today as Armenians and Danes that one hundred years later the genocidal project of the Ottoman Empire failed. We are still standing and celebrating the lives that were saved and will continue through future generations. 

Yet, how abhorrent it is today that history seems to be repeating itself. Aleppo, the beloved city where Karen Jeppe lived most her life and is buried is once again a place of death and destruction nearly a century later. It was only recently that the 13th century Armenian Church and religious complex in this ancient city, along with the Armenian community centers, were reduced to rubble under heavy and senseless bombardment. 

(Photo by Vartan Epremian)

Photo by_Vartan_Epremian 

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