Five Machos from the Ararat

koeglerjournal 2009/2010
Photo © Thomas Kirchgraber

Since the 1970 death in Leningrad of Aleksandr Pushkin, the Pope of teaching classical male dancers, his chair and pulpit have stood empty, for there has been nobody of his legendary reputation anywhere in the world to succeed him. There have been a few Cardinals – Nikolai Tarassov in Moscow, Stanley Williams in the States, Petr Pestov in Moscow and now Stuttgart – but none with the papal halo around his infallible bald head. Instead, interest in “where the Russian male dancers come from” has been shifted to Yerevan, capital of Armenia, better known for its radio station and its satirical comments on life in the ex-USSR. There they do not have a single teacher on which the city’s newly acquired reputation rests, but it is its State Ballet School of Armenia, which serves as an obviously inexhaustible source of providing companies the world over with brilliantly trained male youngsters (while I haven’t met yet any ballerina with the Yerevan seal of quality).

Top importer on the continent seems to be the Zurich Ballet of Switzerland, listing four Armenians among its principals, with a fifth already a member of the Zurich Juniors. Their colleagues include principals and soloists in Berlin, Munich, Hamburg and Stuttgart, and they are all formidable virtuosos of the macho type – no sissies among them. By the way, San Francisco’s David Karapetyan, another Yerevantic, has also entered the world circuit through Zurich, whose ballet-director Heinz Spoerli is full of praise for ‘his boys from Yerevan’.

They seem to be not only colleagues, but close friends, to a degree not usual among continental dancers, but because of their special Armenian binding quality, and not only because they all have trained according to the same syllabus but because they share that same feeling of home (including its sickness). In fact they are immensely proud of being Armenians rather than Russians, and that has undoubtedly to do with their collective consciousness of their people’s suffering under the Young Turks who killed one and a half million of their compatriots during the infamous genocide of 1915/16.

Two summers ago five of them banded together at home in Yerevan for a performance to test their chances under the title “Aesthetic Fighters”. This proved a hit so that they now dared to announce their debut in the West, advertising for July 5 “Forceful Feelings – A Time Journey through the Classical and Modern Dance” at the Munich Gasteig Phiharmonic, presented by Tigran Mikayelyan and Friends. As Mikayelyan is a highly popular principal dancer of the Bavarian State Ballet, public interest was guaranteed. And the public certainly was not disappointed.

Split up in two parts, the evening started with an opening for all five – a bit inspired by Balanchine’s ”Serenade”, to demonstrate their sound classical schooling. If this proved more matter of fact than temperature-raising, three classical pas de deux from “Nutcracker”, “Swan Lake” and “Don Quixote”, with Arman Grigoryan (and Galina Mihaylova as his partner – both from Zurich), Vahe Martirosyan and Viktorina Kapitonova (also from Zurich) and Mikayelyan and Daria Sukhorukova (both from Munich) served as standard fare, to show off their highly polished classical craft, …

… with the men sailing through the air like spitfire rockets if not performing dizzying pirouettes and Sukhorukova holding her arabesques sur le point as untiringly as if posing for a sculptor.

If some of their landings suffered a bit from hiccuping, they didn’t seriously damage the very positive impression. These showpieces were connected by intermezzi of two competing dancers, Arsen Mehrabyan and Artur Babajanyan (both from Zurich), obviously dreaming of the day when they were allowed to appear in these starring roles. Nice and pretty, with bulging muscles, trained by some Armenian Schwarzenegger, but nothing special.

It was different in the second part, which offered some pieces of solid choreographic substance and striking beauty, let alone their sensual appeal. Among them was an electrically charged pas de deux from Spoerli’s sportive “Goldberg Variations” (masterminded by Martirosyan and Sarah Jane Brodbeck) and a highly complex pas de trois “Ich habe genug” from his “Magnificat” (a ’dialogue for three’, ravishingly performed by Grigoryan, Martirosyan and Kapitonova). With projections of some architectural ruins of the city’s past and some landscape views of the country surrounding Yerevan in the shadow of the majestic Ararat mountain range they contributed valiantly to define the geography of their origin, thus emphasizing their ethnic descent, without any folklorist borrowings. In “Memories of Arshile Gorky”, for which they collectively share the choreography and in “Apricot Tree/Memories of the Past”, inspired by an Armenian film, one was very much aware of the incurable wounds their people had suffered almost one hundred years ago. For their finale they chose something more optimistic – and maybe also as an act of homage to Munich’s musical house-god Carl Orff, the opening of his “Carmina Burana”. I wish, though, they had ended their mouthwatering (or shall I rather say: their foot-tickling) programme by offering something from home: imagine these five machos from Ararat range to fling their dancing firebrands fed by the dynamite power of Khachaturian’s ‘Sabre Dance’ into the auditory!

A book, lavishly illustrated by black/white and colored photographs, “Aesthetic Fighters – Tigran Mikayelyan and the Power of Armenian Dancers”, with text in German and English, has been published by Kirchbach Verlag and can be ordered via or via Internet through Amazon/Germany.