Yerevan, 12 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- There is the art of dancing, the art of singing, the art of acting, the art of performing, and the art of speech. And then there is the axis where all of these arts merge into a harmonious union -- opera.
In Armenia, opera appears to undergoing a kind of rebirth. "Anush," composer Armen Tigranian's opera based on the poem of the same name by the legendary writer Hovhannes Toumanian, recently returned to the stage, with performances at the National Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet in Yerevan.
Before the curtain rose and the flow of music, dance and voices joined the flow of our souls, I went to the ballerinas' dressing room to talk about opera and ballet.
Which operas do our ballet dancers wish could be staged as part of our opera scene?
"I wish modern dance was part of the Armenian arts scene," one ballerina says. "We have very, very little of it; almost none at all. We'd like very much to see 'Spartak' staged, or for the ballet 'Antuni' to be restored. I'd love to dance 'Saint Ripsime and Trdat' again."
The absence of male dancers is the main reason that composer Aram Khachaturyan's "Spartak" has not been part of the Armenian culture scene for many years. Armenia's male dancers are conquering stages abroad.
"I'd say our mind is more romantic; our thoughts develop in a more idealistic, ethereal manner. We are prone to idealism. Besides, we prefer classical music. But that doesn't mean that we only listen to Bach, Rakhmaninov, or Beethoven. We also go to the disco."
"Our Armenian boys are really great. We're proud of them," another ballerina says. "But they don't dance here; they're spread out all over the world and keep winning the amazement and admiration of the world audience. First of all, here our young men have to serve in the army, and it's impossible for a ballet dancer to return to ballet and dance after having spent two years in military boots."
Asked to name their ballet idols, the ballerinas say Maya Plisetskaya and Ekaterina Maksimova. And what about the roles they hope to dance?
"I dream of dancing 'Carmen.' Then perhaps 'Kitri,'" one says.
"I'd like to dance all the leading roles, in 'Carmen' and 'Giselle' and 'Chopeniana' and 'Gayane,' and in other ballets," says another.
What is day-to-day life like for these young ballerinas? What makes them different from other Armenian girls?
"We devote most of our time to dancing, and very little time is left for an outside life," one says. "We always try hard to keep fit, to not gain weight."
"I'd say our mind-set, our way of thinking is quite different," another adds. "We have a different approach to any issue. I'd say our mind is more romantic; our thoughts develop in a more idealistic, ethereal manner. We are prone to idealism. Besides, we prefer classical music. But that doesn't mean that we only listen to Bach, Rakhmaninov, or Beethoven. We also go to the disco."
And what about their private life?
"Not every man can have a relationship with a ballerina -- marrying her and starting a family," says one of the ballerinas. "There are guys who, after marriage, simply don't put up with their wife ballet dancing. But this applies to narrow-minded, limited guys. If a person were spiritually rich, he'd never prevent his wife from engaging in this kind of art. On the contrary, he'd be extremely happy that his wife performs such a beautiful, wonderful, and dazzling art."
"Of course, my boyfriend understands me and makes some concessions," another adds.
"My boyfriend will never stop me from ballet dancing, because he is receptive to my art," says a third. "He really loves and appreciates me and my art; he knows that I simply can't live without it. And using this occasion, I want to say that I love him."
Some Armenian men don't allow their girlfriend or wife to continue ballet dancing. But even under these circumstances, most girls prefer a family to a career in dance.
"If I had to choose between a family and ballet, I would opt for the family," one says. "Happiness in my private life is more important for me. What is essential for me is to have a beloved husband and good children, and to always be by their side."
"I'd rather not face the question," another says.
It was interesting to hear about the subtlety and sensitivity of the ballerinas from the point of view of their teacher. "It's a great pleasure for me to work with ballerinas because I'm very fond of this art," she says. "The girls are really nice, very caring and perceptive. They are endowed with all the good traits. Most certainly, they differ from the other girls as far as their intellect is concerned. And not only that, they differ in many things. They have a subtle sensitivity to all the psychological experiences a human being can have."
The girls noted that nowadays, the opera audience has substantially increased, especially among young people. "We are very happy about the fact that interest in the opera and ballet, especially among young people, has grown considerably recently," one of them says. Another adds, "I'd like to add that the opera hall is always sold out."
One of the dancers suggests that young people now consider the opera more fashionable and modern than, for instance, going to clubs.
There are plans to restore the ballet "Antuni," as well as to form a new program with a variety, including modern dance, in the near future. It really seems impossible to resist the gravitational pull of this magnetic art form once you have penetrated it.
(This story was originally broadcast by RFE/RL's Armenian Service and was a finalist in RFE/RL's June 2005 Division of Broadcasting Innovation Excellence award for the "best story on youth at a crossroads.")
According to research by the Asian Development Bank and UNICEF, there are now more than 70,000 school-age children in Kyrgyzstan working to earn money for their families instead of attending school. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service correspondent Jannat Toktosunova went to the Osh Bazaar in Bishkek to meet some of these children:Also see:
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