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Folk Dance Federation of California, South, Inc.

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Dance Ensemble

By Dick Oakes



Sardarabad The Sardarabad (from the name of an ancient city) Dance Ensemble is centered at the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU) in Hollywood, California. They rehearse twice a week and perform (for expenses only) at local festivals, holiday programs, and Armenian social occasions. They have performed at Los Angeles City College, the Barnsdale Park Arts Center, for the Refugee Festival of Los Angeles, and at the Pasadena Children's Museum.

All instruction is in Armenian, the first language of virtually everyone in the room. All of the young-adult dance group (ages 13 to 23) were born in Armenia, and many of them have been in the United States for only 3 or 4 years. Many of the younger dancers (ages 5 to 12) were born here in California.

The AGBU sponsors this two-part dance ensemble for a number of fairly obvious reasons. The primary goal is, of cours, "to preserve traditional Armenian songs and dances as well as the Armenian culture," according to Adam Avasian, Performance Manager for the group. Another goal, subscribed to by all parts of the AGBU organization, is to provide a pace for Armenian immigrants to socialize and maintain contact with one another. According to Adam, perhaps a more urgent need is to give Armenian youth alter-native activities and social life to that found on the streets of Hollywood.

Since 1988, the instructor of Sardarabad has been Levon Gasoyan. Sardarabad itself was started ihn 19870, then fell on hard times a few years later, and was reborn under Levon's tutelage in 1985. In that year, he was a guest director in a tourist visa from the Soviet Union. In 1987, he and his family permanently immigrated to Los Angeles, California.

Levon Gasyuan's background is training that reflects the serious level of support given to folk arts in the Soviet Union. As a boy, he dances with the Young Pioneers in Kerovkan, his home town. His teachers encouraged him to attend the Cultural Institute in Yerevan, where he studied ballet as well as folk dance. He became a member and featured soloist in the State Ensemble of Armenia in 1958, under the instruction of Vartkes Rashigian and choreographer Edward Manovgian. In 1973, he was awarded as an Artist of Merit by the State of Armenia, and also received the Best Dance Artist Award of 1977 for the Soviet Union Youth Dance Competition. In 1977, Levon founded his own independent dance troupe, "Nork," where he served as artistic director and choreographer. The group danced to a 12-piece orchestra, and many recordings from that time are used her by the Los Angeles group.

The biggest challenge for Sardarabad isn't necessarily the influence of American dance style. Rather, it is American life in general. Retaining dancers after they are trained and know the repertoire is Levon's main problem. The younger dancers can be counted on to continue for several years. Their parents are eager for them to maintain as much Armenian folk culture as possible. The high school dancers, however, usually only dance for 3 or 4 years before university or marriage draws the away.

The group performed at the International Festival, Laguna Beach, California on October 2, 1977, and in the San Fernando Valley on May 3, 2009. One of the groups choreographers and teachers is Rouben Hovhannessian.

Taken from the October 1991 issue of Folk Dance Scene.