2015 AYF Olympics Saturday Night: A Successful Experiment

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The Saturday Night Dance at the AYF Olympics has always been…something less as Olympic weekend dances go. It was always the little brother to Sunday’s Olympics Ball. Since the emergence of the Friday Alumni Dance, the Saturday Night Dance has even taken a back seat to that. There are all kinds of theories for this. Perhaps all the athletes and their families are going out for dinner and then turning in early in anticipation of the Sunday Games. Maybe the cost of three dances in a row is a bit prohibitive. Perhaps, as I suspect, people just want a free night for family and friends.

Facebook photo posted by the Sayat Nova Dance Company just before going on

In recent years, different venues and committees have tried different ideas and talent to make Saturday night more attractive. Rather than offer another kef band a la Friday and Sunday night, the recent trend has been to get the more modern style of Armenian music in place. We have seen a band flown in from Armenia and the popular Armenchik offered as entertainment. Interestingly, these Saturday nights have been reasonably well attended but not, necessarily, by the same folks that attend the Friday Alumni Dance and the Sunday Olympic Ball. The goal for Saturday night has been twofold:

(1) try something different;

(2) try to attract the parts of the local community that might not otherwise attend any of the Olympic dances.

Generally this has worked, but with a price. The likes of Harout and Armenchik are pricey options, and thus even a fuller house for Saturday night is no guarantee of having a financial success.

Tamar Melkonian and Ani Zargarian of the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble

This is not a new problem. Way back in the day (i.e., the 1950’s), the Saturday Night Dance featured American music. I am young enough to have missed that time and cannot comment on how successful that was or was not, except to note that this has not been done for a long time. When I started to attend the Olympics as an AYFer, there was no Friday Night Alumni Dance, and the Saturday Night Dance and the Alumni Ball both had kef bands, with the Saturday Night Dance having a little bit less All Starry of a band than Sunday Night.

Der Gomidas Baghsarian and Onnik Dinkjian enjoying the Cultural Evening Performances

This year, Providence took a completely different approach. 2015 is the 100th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. The commemoration of this darkest period of Armenian history was not isolated to April 24. Indeed, the collective plan was commemorate the event over at least the next year. And all commemorations were not meant to be solemn. People looked at celebrating our survival and how we thrived wherever we landed and set up communities like Providence. The committee decided to take a chance and do something different. They decided to hold a cultural evening: a presentation of the preservation of Armenia, Armenians, and the Armenian Spirit in the U.S.

They took a chance and had a Cultural Evening featuring the Arev Ensemble, the Sayat Nova Dance Ensemble, and Karnig Sarkissian. The committee thought it would be something different and might attract locals from all of New England that might not normally attend an AYF Olympic social event. They decided, they planned, they publicized, and they waited. They waited to see what the turnout would be and if they got enough people to make it a social and financial success.

Karnig Sarkissian

Bottom line? It was a rousing success. The room was packed and everyone in attendance loved the performances. The committee chairs had smiles on their faces. It was the perfect Saturday Night line-up for this very special year. Furthermore, the audience was young and old and every segment of our community was represented, which was a real pleasure to see.

The evening began with the Arev Armenian Folk Ensemble. John Kozelian, Ani Zargarian, Martin Haroutunian, Tamar Melkonian, Markos Shahbazyan, and Stepan Megerdichian did a marvelous job offering classic Armenian folk melodies for everyone’s listening and even dancing pleasure. The authentic instrumentation and arrangements were wonderful and well received.

Sayat Nova on Stage

Arev was followed by the well-known and highly regarded Sayat Nova Dance Company of Boston. Under the able directorship of Apo Ashjian, Shaghig Palanjian, and Hagop Ashjian, the troupe was a perfect follow-up to Arev. The audience was amazed by the choreography and precision of the dancers. The selections were had the audience clapping.

The headline act was, of course, Karnig Sarkissian who is the master of patriotic and revolutionary songs. Half of the audience sang along with the Karnig verse for verse for each and every song. While Arev and Sayat Nova provided a celebration of our culture and our survival, Karnig’s performance and offerings fed a deeper and more unresolved part of our collective psyche: our continued determination to fight for truth and the kind of justice that can only come from Recognition and Restitution.

The Famous Four Stepans with Michael Varadian and Varoujan Santourian

Congratulations to the Providence AYF and the AYF Olympic Committee for taking a chance and providing such a wonderful and memorable evening.

Source: Armenian Weekly
Link: 2015 AYF Olympics Saturday Night: A Successful Experiment