By Alin K. Gregorian
BOSTON — The Sayat Nova Dance Company (SNDC) of Boston will perform in the 90th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City on November 24.
For Apo Ashjian, who founded the group more than 30 years ago, how they were chosen is mystifying but he and troupe of dancers are elated.
Speaking on Monday, November 7, he said, “None of us knows what happened. We went to Armenia over the summer to celebrate our 30th anniversary there and we gave multiple performances, some of them standing room only. There were all kinds of proclamations and awards and gold medals. We came back very proud of our achievements. A short time later we got an email on our website asking us to participate in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”
He added, “Maybe somebody knew we came back from Armenia, maybe they made a phone call. They first asked us to submit a DVD. They wanted to make sure that the quality stays.”
Ashjian said that the SNDC had made a two-hour compilation tape of their performances throughout Armenia. They sent the tape to the organizers and they “specifically picked a one-minute piece they wanted us to dance.”
The dance chosen, Vasbouragani Bar, he said, is very lively. “It really describes the culture of Armenian dance,” Ashjian said. If he had to choose one minute to represent the culture, he said, that is the exact segment he would choose.
Everyone marches along the 2.7-mile parade route and at different intervals along the road, the Sayat Nova music will be heard for 30-second piece, where the dancers can perform and then keep walking.
The select groups picked then get one minute to perform outside Macy’s flagship store in New York. He said Sayat Nova is expected to dance between 10.30 and 11 a.m.
Ashjian stressed that he is excited not as a founder of SNDC, but for how this representation of Armenian dance can now be seen around the world. “It is not about Sayat Nova. It is not about me. This is about the representation of Armenians in the world renowned parade,” he said.
“The costumes are so Armenian. They told us you can’t have any flags or political posters. So we thought we are going to add tricolor flags on the costumes,” Ashjian said.
Ashjian noted that when he heard about the offer, he was afraid to announce it, as it would interfere with everyone’s Thanksgiving plans. “I was crossing my fingers that we could go,” he said.
He did not need to worry.
“You should have heard the screams. They were so happy. There were tears in my eyes. I thought I would have to convince them. Now a lot of parents are coming to see us and cheer,” he added.
Dancer Rebecca Shahverdian, 23, work for an e-commerce company in Boston and has been with Sayat Nova for five years. She said, “It is very, very exciting for us, especially since it is basically the biggest way possible that we could be preserving and promoting our culture, to be able to dance and show we are to the entire nation and practically the rest of the world. It’s overwhelming. It’s amazing.”
Another young dancer, Tina Kotikian, a high school senior, said, “I am really excited to go and I’m really proud and honored that we got this opportunity to represent Armenian culture.”
Her brother, Alec Kotikian, a college student, said, “I really can’t describe how I feel about performing in the parade because on some level I am just thinking about how it’s another show, which is how I keep my nerves calm before getting on stage. But on another level, I am beyond excited and honored and proud to be performing in front of millions of viewers representing not only my local Armenian culture, but also Armenians around the globe.”
Niari Keverian, a dancer with Sayat Nova for 15 years and a member of the SNDC executive committee since 2006, has been close to the organization even earlier than that. Her mother and aunt, she said, were both with Sayat Nova and she was backstage since she was 3, watching them.
“I think it is an incredible honor for SNDC to perform at such a prestigious event. It is the largest honor that any Armenian folk dance company can get in the United States. It is not just Sayat Nova. It highlights our nationality, our heritage, our culture, not just the United States, but all over the world. It is a huge honor for the entire diaspora,” she said, just like when Armenia had a float at the Rose Bowl Parade in Pasadena a couple of years ago.
“If you look at the list of performers, it is very, very prestigious,” she added.
The Macy’s parade is expected to be viewed by 50 million people on television and online, with an estimated 4 million people along the parade route.
Already, he said, he has seen the story about the dance group in a Turkish newspaper, with the wrong photo.
SNDC was founded in 1986 and is a non-profit organization that relies solely on the commitment and dedication of its supporters.
There are 56 dancers in the group now, and of those about 50 are going to New York.
The group holds three weekly rehearsals. Right now, they are rehearsing that one minute and eight second dance without stop.
Over the past 30 years, the company has had approximately 500 volunteer members contribute to their mission, which is to preserve and promote the Armenian culture through dance.
They have performed at various prestigious venues including Boston’s Hatch Shell, Boston Common’s Outside the Box Festival, the Emerson Majestic Theatre, Jacob’s Pillow, Gillette stadium, and Armenia’s Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet.
Those who want can go to the Facebook page of the group and follow the event live.