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Tribute to an icon of Armenian music

September 13, 2004|Chris Pasles | Times Staff Writer

Komitas is an iconic Armenian figure (1869-1935) who preserved thousands of traditional songs and composed numerous instrumental works before suffering a mental breakdown as a result of the Armenian genocide in 1915.

"Komitas, Kroong Bnaver" (Komitas, Banished but Not Forgotten) is Anna Djanbazian's two-act ballet devoted to the man and the Armenian people. Premiered Friday by her dance company at Glendale Community College Theatre, Djanbazian's homage could not live up to this exalted subject. Few efforts could.

Komitas' music -- at least that heard on recordings during the ballet -- fell into two types. There was uplifting choral and orchestral music that reflected the edgy, arresting flavor of Armenian church and folk idioms. There was also chamber music that however much may take its origins in such idioms emerged steadfastly in the language of 19th-century Romanticism. Think Brahms and Dvorak, rather than Bartok and Kodaly. The ethnic-flavored music was more compelling.

Djanbazian's ballet similarly straddled several stylistic worlds. Basically, the vocabulary was balletic. But there were also segments of pure tableaux, pantomime, folk and modern dance.

One section so mimicked the famous Entrance of the Shades in "La Bayadere" that the quotation must have been intentional, although the intention wasn't clear. Another used Martha Graham contractions and Paul Taylor nervous body shakes.

The modern dance section depicting Armenian women brutalized in 1915 was the most powerful. The folk dances in the wedding and final scenes were the most uplifting.

Overall, however, the narrative was segmented and choppy, with gaps that required information not provided on stage. The ballet vocabulary was conventional and did not carry much expressive weight. The pre-genocide world was understandably idealized, but also thin and unpersuasive.

Guest artist Arsen Serobian danced the title role with dignity and emotion, although the role confined him to two emotions, joy and anguish. David Hovhannisyan, also a guest, was the dynamic groom and solo laborer. Djanbazian's youthful troupe danced with commitment.

The upbeat ending, which honors the survival and resilience of the Armenian people, was the most inspiring part of the program.

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