Armenian Reporter – 3/31/2007 – arts and culture section

ARMENIAN REPORTER
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March 31, 2007 — From the arts and culture section
All of the articles that appear below are special to the Armenian Reporter.
For photographs, visit

Briefly

1. Trio Nareg at Western Diocese on May 23
2. Always happy hour with Steve Odabashian
3. Minnesota Book Awards finalists
4. Hamazkayin Educational and Cultural Society announces cultural forum
5. Taner Akçam Book TV lecture now available on DVD and VHS
6. National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia celebrates its 10th year
7. Taline is taking her children’s show on the road
8. The Reporter wants your art briefs

9. Bits of flavor in "Grape Leaves" (by Aram Kouyoumdjian)

10. The art of life and the life of art (by Paul Chaderjian)
* Vahe Berberian’s milagros come in words, images, and emotions

11. "Gor": It’s okay to say it (by Paul Chaderjian)

12. Through the lens of Kaloust Babian (by Gregory Lima)

13. Concert marks composer Adam Kudoyan’s 85th anniversary

14. In Illusion, Michael Goorjian tells a tale of tragic love (by
Tamar Salibian)

15. Women in action and in pain (by Betty Panossian-Ter Sargssian)
* Women in Armenia open a window with alternative art

16. Essay: Two girlfriends celebrate life (by Armen D. Bacon)

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Briefly

1. Trio Nareg at Western Diocese on May 23

Trio Nareg, three renowned Armenian musicians will come together on
May 23 at the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church to perform Arno
Babajanian’s "Piano Trio," Tigran Mansurian’s "Five Bagatelles," and
keyboard trios by Franz Joseph Haydn and Felix Mendelssohn. Trio Nareg
brings together Ani Kavafian, one of America’s most versatile
violinists; pianist Armen Guzelimian, a celebrated virtuoso soloist,
ensemble member, recording artist, and accompanist; and the brilliant
young cellist Ani Kalayjian.

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2. Always happy hour with Steve Odabashian

Friday Nights at Cascamorto Piano Bar in Philadelphia will never be
the same, thanks to the piano player who apparently knows the name of
everyone who walks in. The name of the man behind the keyboard is
Steve Odabashian. The 37-year-old is a comedian, pianist, singer, and
. . . a lawyer. Steve says he plays everything by ear and his
repertoire includes more than 300 songs. He knows the lyrics of each
of the songs by heart, and he’s learning 30 more songs a week. You do
the math and tell him the Reporter sent you.

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3. Minnesota Book Awards finalists

This year, for the first time, there are two Minnesota Book Award
finalists of Armenian interest: Taner Akçam’s A Shameful Act: The
Armenian Genocide and the Question of Responsibility and Susan Deborah
King’s Coven. (Ms. King is married to Rev. James Gertmenian of
Plymouth Congregational Church in Minneapolis.) Judges will award
honors in eight categories, and Minnesotans are invited to vote online
for the overall Reader’s Choice Award now through April 15. Winners
will be posted May 6.

connect:

4. Hamazkayin Educational and Cultural Society announces cultural forum

The Hamazkayin Educational and Cultural Society is accepting
applications for its 2007 Cultural Forum to be held in Yerevan July
15-29. All college-aged individuals are encouraged to apply. The
annual forum began in 1995. The aim: to unite young Armenians from
around the world to learn more about Armenian art, history, culture,
society, and modern life in the homeland. It is a unique opportunity
for people to visit Armenia for the first time – or as a returning
visitor – and meet with fellow Armenians from around the globe who are
interested in learning more about their people’s past as well as where
they are headed.

connect:

5. Taner Akçam Book TV lecture now available on DVD and VHS

Turkish historian and University of Minnesota professor Taner Akçam’s
December 16, 2006, lecture at St. Sahag Armenian Church in St. Paul,
Minnesota., is now available from C-SPAN for $29.95 plus shipping. The
lecture, broadcast on Book TV on February 12 and 19, 2007, examined
how the Ottoman Turks responded to the charge that they were
committing genocide. Professor Akçam, author of A Shameful Act: The
Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility, also
discussed how the current Turkish government describes what happened.
The lecture was hosted by the Armenian Cultural Organization of
Minnesota and cosponsored by the University of Minnesota. Ask for "A
Shameful Act," product ID 195948-1.

connect: ; (877) 662-7726

6. National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia celebrates its 10th year

The National Chamber Orchestra of Armenia (Aram Gharabekian, artistic
director and principal conductor) will celebrate its 10th anniversary
with a special gala concert and presentation on April 5, at 7 p.m. at
the Russian-Armenian State University Concert Hall in Yerevan.

The anniversary concert will feature special guest artists Federico
Mondelci from Italy (saxophone) and Aida Amirkhanian from the United
States (choregrapher-dancer).

Photographs from the last 10 years will be exhibited in the same
venue. There will also be a premiere presentaion of the orchestra’s
Zvartnots Gala concert DVD.

The orchestra is preparing for a French tour and a 15-city tour in
Armenia. The anniversary celebrations will conclude with two concerts
at the prestigious St. Petersburg Palaces Festival in July.

connect:

7. Taline is taking her children’s show on the road

One of the most loved and celebrated Armenian children’s singers,
Taline, is planning three concert tours this year. The spring concert
tour starts in April and will include concerts in the United States.
The singer’s next concert in on Sunday, April 15, in Orange County,
Calif. The fall tour will include concerts in Europe, and the 2007
Christmas concert tour will include a finale at the Alex Theatre on
Armenian Christmas Day, January 6, 2008. Taline also has a new CD and
DVD. Look for a profile of the singer in the upcoming issues of the
Armenian Reporter.

connect:

8. The Reporter wants your art briefs

The Armenian Reporter newspaper’s new weekly Arts & Culture section
wants your arts, entertainment and cultural news headlines and story
ideas. We want to know what Armenian artists and community and
cultural organizations are up to, what your accomplishments have been,
and what your future plans are. Write us if you know of or have heard
about Armenians doing anything that you feel is interesting for other
Armenians to know about, and we’ll follow up.

connect: [email protected]

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9. Bits of flavor in "Grape Leaves"

by Aram Kouyoumdjian

The notion that a review of a play would take longer to write than the
play itself seems anomalous. Yet "Stuffed Grape Leaves," a one-act
piece that ended its brief run at the Luna Playhouse on Sunday, March
18, was apparently written "in an hour." So claimed playwright Jacklyn
Narian during a question-and-answer session with the audience
following that final performance.

To be fair, Narian was trying to emphasize the urgent need she had
to commit her play – long brewing inside of her – to paper. Whether
her claim was meant as a boast or an excuse, I cannot venture a guess;
perhaps, it was not even literally meant (especially since Narian made
more than one flip comment, best attributed to youthful inexperience,
at the session). It did, however, offer an explanation for various
shortcomings in her modest, unpolished work.

"Stuffed Grape Leaves," which clocks in at a mere 30 minutes, is a
pastiche of four scenes that depict the Armenian immigrant experience
in California over a century. Its vignettes are only nominally
connected through the titular motif and the theme of ethnic identity.

The opening scene, set in the 1920s, situates Grandpa Nubar (Armen
Kerasimian) in the vineyards of Fresno, as his grandchildren frolic
around him and pluck delicious grapes. The fruit and its gently
textured leaves awaken memories of the old country in the old man, and
he reminisces with his immigrant laborer, José (Arshavir Steven
Saryan), who toils nearby. "Things are always perfect in the old
country," they agree – at least, in the way they choose to remember
it; surely, neither man would have left such a paradise for foreign
soil. The soil, indeed, is different, Nubar observes, as is the air,
"but the sun is the same." Kerasimian’s heartfelt delivery of such
lines captures their poetic lyricism; the brevity of the scene,
however, abbreviates their resonance.

The second scene jumps fifty years forward and shifts to a backyard
in Hollywood. An Armenian woman named Mariam has ventured onto her
neighbor’s land without permission to pick some grape leaves. When the
neighbor, Frank, discovers her, they strike up a conversation, which
Mariam conveniently turns into a lesson in Armenian history. The
writing quickly turns sentimental, which hampers Sossy Varjabedian’s
otherwise engaging portrayal of Mariam, who exists less as a character
than as a conduit for speechmaking. Fortunately, Jonaton Wyne’s
natural ease as Frank helps minimize the pedantic aspects of the
scene.

A modern-day Mediterranean restaurant in Burbank serves as the
setting for the third scene, in which a brother and sister mull
questions of ethnicity and its preservation through language. Ramela
(Elizabeth Saryan) feels proud of her brother Vahan’s success as a
restaurateur but fears that he is veering away from his roots. A
telltale sign? His menu offers "stuffed grape leaves," failing to call
them dolma or sarma. When Vahan (John Mardoyan) points out that
neither alternative is an Armenian word, Ramela’s response is an
unconvincing argument that such words have somehow become Armenianized
by usage. The scene sacrifices drama for debate, which is often
preachy and, worse yet, unsound – as when Ramela obliviously insists
that a sweet confection known as Turkish Delight be properly called
lokhum; apparently, that Turkish word has been Armenianized as well.

The final scene, set in the future, returns to the restaurant, which
is now shut down. A nameless Armenian Woman (Maro Parian) addresses
her absent mother in a monologue that ruminates on assimilation – and
its avoidance both through simple acts, like stuffing grape leaves, or
loftier tasks, like building an Armenian museum. The austere scene –
accentuated by the black and gray colors of the woman’s clothing –
touches on intriguing ideas of pain and guilt. Just as intriguingly,
it toys with a surreal structure, as an Armenian statue comes into
view, symbolically carrying the grapes that will provide tender leaves
of renewal.

Narian astutely conveys this circularity in the concluding moments
of the piece. As the woman starts singing "Cilicia" while exiting,
characters from earlier scenes return to echo this song of yearning,
exacting genuine emotion through subtlety and nuance that are sorely
missed in much of the script.

If "Stuffed Grape Leaves" were being judged solely on effort, it
would deserve high marks. But theater that commands an audience’s time
and money must deliver more than effort. "Stuffed Grape Leaves" offers
some flavorful morsels but, for the most part, tastes undone. Perhaps
it should have been cooked longer than an hour.

******************************************* ********************************

10. The art of life and the life of art

* Vahe Berberian’s milagros come in words, images, and emotions

by Paul Chaderjian

Before we enter his second-floor studio, painter, performer, writer
Vahe Berberian insists on serving oranges and mandarins from the trees
that line the apartment building’s driveway. Vahe has been nurturing
these trees for more than a decade, and you can tell he’s proud of
them. He likes green things, he says.

Three of the units in the white apartment building – a few miles north
of the San Fernando Valley’s arterial Ventura Boulevard, in the flats
of the Valley – are where Vahe paints, lives, and stores his works of
art.

Six months out of the year, however, here’s not here. The tall and
thin 51-year-old, with salt-and-pepper braids, spends a lot of his
time taking his performance art and his monologues to Armenian
communities as far away as the homeland and Australia.

On this Tuesday afternoon, Vahe is in the Southland and plucking
oranges off his tree with a long-handled fruit picker’s pole. He
retrieves about a dozen oranges and mandarins, placing them in a
plastic grocery bag. Once he is settled in his sunny and airy upstairs
studio, peeling an orange, we begin our interview.

* The Casitas warehouse

The peg on this cover story in the Armenian Reporter, dear reader, is
that on March 31, Vahe will transform a 16 thousand square foot
warehouse in Atwater Village, south of Glendale, into a gallery. The
hundreds of fans expected to attend will also receive a copy of this
very issue you have in your hands. Perhaps you’re one of the ones who
attended. How was the show?

On display at the warehouse on the 31st will be dozens of Vahe’s
milagros – small, thin and thick pieces of metal, meticulously painted
and individually framed by the artist himself. We have come to his
studio to find out about the milagros.

"We call them milagros," Vahe explains, "because in Spanish, it
means miracle or surprise, and they are a little of both. The miracle
and surprise Vahe is talking about are four inches by four of
aluminum. He began experiments with metal when he received a request
from a film producer to create a ‘wall of voodoo,’ made up of a
hundred individually painted pieces.

"They needed it for a film," he says. "I did it, and I realized that
I liked the process. I knew that it was going to take me somewhere. So
I spent months and months working on the series, all one hundred
pieces of metal, almost like tarot cards."

Vahe says when he began the project, he had no idea what occult and
voodoo figures were and what he would draw and paint on these small
pieces of metallic canvas. Once he began experimenting, Vahe says, he
discovered he would use acrylic and that the size was dictating his
style.

The art of discovery with the milagros was that he couldn’t create
abstractions and abstract images as he does in his larger-than-life
paintings. "When they’re so small," he says, "abstraction doesn’t
translate well. So the milagros are more études (studies). They are
figurative, colorful, whimsical."

To paint fifty pieces of metal for the film, Vahe says he tapped
into his Jungian subconscious, coming up with figures he didn’t know
resided in his mind. "A lot of them are symbols," he says, "but I’m
not using them as symbols. I generally don’t have names for the
pieces, but this one," he says, pointing to one with two female
figures, "is called Pari Passu. It means with the same step. It’s
Latin."

The exhibit at a warehouse at 3191 Casitas Avenue – where a
burgeoning community of artists, architects, filmmakers, writers, and
photographers have set up their workspaces – will present the milagros
for one night only.

Vahe has priced the pieces lower than the works he exhibits and
sells exclusively at the Gallery Saint Germaine in Los Angeles. He
says he wanted to give fans of his work who wanted Vahes but cannot
afford them, a chance to own one of his originals.

Among those who can afford and collect Vahe’s painting are a Who’s
Who from the arts literati – from Hollywood, Paris, and New York.
Among Vahe’s patrons and collectors are Los Angeles Opera director
Peter Sellars, architect Frank Israel, publishers Alain and Raymonde,
actresses Lucy Liu and Mariette Hartley, football Hall of Famer Marcus
Allen, artist Tanya Hovnanian, and filmmaker Atom Egoyan.

* Abstract expressionism, à la L.A.

Vahe’s works of art are big, like everything American. His pieces
range from fourteen feet by fourteen to four feet by six. "The larger,
the better," he says, and that’s why Vahe does not plan to create any
more of the four inch by six milagros.

"When I started working years ago," he says, "I was using my
fingers. Gradually, I started using my wrist. Then I started using my
elbow, and then I started using my shoulder, and now my entire body
paints. It’s a ritualistic thing. It’s almost like dancing, and you
achieve that only when you’re working on large pieces. I want to
achieve the freedom of working on a large piece."

I ask him if he had to label his work, what school or genre would
classify his work. "I would say I’m an abstract expressionist," he
answers. "My work is abstract. Not Jackson Pollock or Gorky. Probably,
the closest are Cy Twombly and Antoni Tapies."

"His work is about who he is," says Caroline Lais-Tufenkian from her
home in Glendale during a phone interview. Caroline studied Vahe and
five other Armenian artists as the subject of her graduate school
thesis. Her focus was how Armenian artists bring to their art their
cultural background and create a new hybrid cultural identity.

"Several components have been the key in the construction of
Berberian’s complex and rich aesthetic identity," says Caroline, who
was the curator of one of Vahe’s nearly three dozen one-man and group
show. "For example, his Armenianness, cross-cultural background,
modern abstract expressions, and him being a Los Angeles artist.
Berberian offers a new dialect to the western artistic style of
abstract expressionism."

Caroline says this new western style does not identify with any
specific style. However, she says, it specifies a personal and
spontaneous attitude. "I think his work is so spontaneous and
definitely shows his personal attitude."

I ask Caroline how the modern critical and curatorial studies world
explains the simplicity of abstract expressionism. She says that with
abstract art, people sometimes do say, ‘a child could have done that.’
However, Caroline explains that an artist has to go through many years
of intensive art training before he or she can something that is
childlike and works as a piece of art.

* Berberian’s peers & his evolution

Vahe says when he began painting, it was during the years that another
well-known, modern-day abstract expressionist, Basquiat, was also
painting. Vahe says if you look at his work and compare it to
Basquiat’s, they are very close, almost identical.

I ask him how his work as a Lebanese-Armenian now living in Los
Angeles could resemble the work of an African-American living on the
streets of New York. Vahe says he believes the similarity between his
work and Basquiat’s is due to the political, social dynamics of the
times.

"Then I gradually evolved into more of a minimalist style," he says.
"When you’re younger, you have this tendency to show off. Your colors
are bright. You want to say, I can do this. I can do this, and I can
do that."

The older an artist becomes, says Vahe, the more mature his or her
work also becomes. "And hopefully," he says, "you create your own
palette of colors. It’s ironic, because you work all your life in
order to create a language of your own, and then you get upset when
that language is not understood. It’s funny in a way."

Vahe says he feels fortunate that he can make a descent living off
his art and that success is not something he expected. "We grew up
with that notion of artists dying poor and hungry and starving," he
says. "However, now I realize that with acknowledgement comes a sense
of liberation. Your work changes. It becomes freer, more powerful,
more raw, because you do not need to please anyone anymore. Your work
becomes less adornmental, less decorative, and more immediate. It
becomes you."

* The ritual of painting and the movies

Vahe says he is a creature of habit, and that process of creating art
for him is walking into his studio without any concepts or ideas. "The
whole concept of having an idea and materializing the idea turns the
work of art into an illustration, he says, quickly adding that he is
not an illustrator.

"I start somewhere and work with the assumption that art is a series
of mistakes," he explains. "I stand in front of the canvas and make my
first mistake. Then, I go on and on, and I stop when I think I like
what I see. I stop when I think that I can’t make any more mistakes."

Vahe’s body of work, his canon so far, is made up of hundreds of
paintings. Every one, except the few his wife Betty has saved, have
been sold. "I am very happy that she has kept one or two from
different periods or phases," he says.

"The ones that I own are rented and used in different films like the
three Spiderman movies. I know they’re going to make Spiderman four
and five, and they wanted to buy the paintings, but I didn’t sell.
Because I know they will come back to rent them."

Vahe says the paintings his wife has held on to have been rented
dozens of times over the past fourteen years by movie production
companies and used on film sets. It must help if one’s wife is an
expert set designer; but the artwork has to be powerful enough to
stand on its own, especially when millions of movie-going eyes will be
forced to focus on them through the lens of a 35-mm camera.

In Hollywood, Vahe is represented by an agency called Film Art LA.
His agent submits his art to dozen of films or television shows a
year. "I have five films coming out this year. I have ‘Spiderman 3.’ I
have ‘Ocean’s 13.’ I have ‘I am Legend’ with Will Smith. I have
‘Enchanted.’ I have ‘Holiday’ and a few more."

* Duality of introvert and extrovert

According to Vahe’s mother, when he was a year-and-a-half old, he
began to doodle, pretending to be writing words and sentences. "After
50 years," he says, "I sometimes think that was the ultimate
translation of what I stand for – writing, almost writing whatever’s
coming."

With more than a dozen film scripts, almost a dozen plays, and
several monologues in his credits, Vahe is also a published author.
His two novels, Letters from Zakhtar and In the Name of the Father and
the Son have been well received.

"I think, Paul," he says to me, "that I’m realizing that I have this
split personality. One part of me is the entertainer, the one who
seeks attention. That’s the part of me that is the actor, that does
the monologues. The other part of me shies away from attention, loves
putting on the music and painting without interruption or writing for
hours and hours. I love it. I love it."

Vahe says his monologues, which he has performed all over the world,
on Armenian-themed cruises at sea, on the Hayastan All-Armenian Fund
telethon, at churches and fundraisers, are the perfect combination of
the two sides of the artist in him. "Because, I sit down and write,"
he says, "and then I perform. It’s the perfect combination."

Vahe says painting can be a stage for him as well. He often has
friends come to visit while he’s painting. "People come, hang around,"
he says, "have coffee and watch. I talk to them, but at the same time,
I paint. And I love that. I love that. It’s like, on those days, I do
not entertain, but I welcome their presence, and I get entertained by
them, and I incorporate everything that happens in this room in that
painting."

* Monologues

"I love people and the situations they find themselves in," says Vahe,
explaining his monologues. He has written, performed, and videotaped
three of them already. His DVDs and videos of "Nayev," "Yevaylen,"
and "Dagaveen" are distributed all over the world, are available on
, and have a loyal following in the homeland.

"I don’t make fun of people because I think weak people make fun of
others," he says. "I like to laugh with people instead, and I want to
point at certain things that are funny like ideas, situations, and
circumstances that put us in situations."

Vahe says his Spalding Gray-influenced monologues are primarily in
Armenian because if he performed them in English, he is certain they
would take over his life. "Sometimes, I feel like my art is suffering
because of the performances."

When Vahe is on tour, his painting has to take a backseat to his
monologues. He says monologues hurt his pocketbook because his
painting are more lucrative, and because there is a lot of traveling
involved. "Last year, six months out of the year, I was away," he
says. "I performed in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, New
Jersey, then San Francisco, Florida, Toronto, Montreal, Yerevan,
Paris, Marseille, Valance, Lyon, London, on the ocean, Beirut, Sydney,
Melbourne, and it takes its toll."

* Starbucks

"Since I spend a lot of time in Europe," says Vahe, "and I love the
Paris culture, the cafe culture, I started going to the Starbucks in
my neighborhood when they put two small tables outside. There were no
other coffee shops around, so I was always at Starbucks. I did a lot
of my writing there."

Vahe says his both of his novels were composed by hand at the corner
table at the Starbucks on Ventura Boulevard near Van Nuys. "Then
gradually, it became almost like a meeting place for everyone who
wanted to see me."

Part of the his motivation to hold court at the coffee shop, says
Vahe, was due to his simple unwillingness to wash coffee cups at his
studio. "I didn’t want to clean up after people," he says.

"Something very, very important," he continues. "A lot of people,
they want your undivided attention, and after a while, that becomes
very draining, especially with the young people who come and spend
time with me. So, I think unconsciously, I created a situation where I
would bring people together, and it would give me a chance to dilute
the situation."

This Starbucks tradition has not spanned more than a decade. Vahe
says on certain days and nights, as many as 25 friends and
acquaintances will gather around his table. "A lot of people will just
stand there," he says. "It’s sometimes an international event. You’ll
have Germans, French, people from all over and people of all ages."

* Journalism

Young and old, people from various generations of life coming together
is important to Vahe. He says he doesn’t see much of it in American
life. "When you see an 80-year-old talking to a 16-year-old," he says,
"you look twice."

Vahe says he wants to see more people from different walks of life
coming together, talking, exchanging ideas, and creating a public
forum and cross-generational, cross-vocational, cross-economic
dialogue.

Vahe immigrated to the U.S. in 1976 and earned his undergraduate
degree in journalism at Woodbury University in California. When he
began taking graduate courses in journalism, he realized that he was
never going to be a journalist.

However, Vahe did spend 12 years writing, reviewing films, and
working as the layout and graphics designer for the Asbarez daily
newspaper in Glendale. "I love the newspaper business," he says.

The frustration with the news business, says Vahe, has to do with
the impermanence of the medium. "You do something, and when the
curtains close like in theatre, it’s done. You can never repeat it.
The experience is finished. You do your work, when it comes back from
the printer, you have to work on the new issue. That’s it."

* Betty, Betty, Betty

"We grew up together," says Vahe of his wife, movie set decorator and
set designer Betty Berberian. "We married when we were very young. We
met when she was studying art history and was in theater. Over the
past 27 years, we grew up together. She knows my art better than I do.
She knows me so well, and I’m very lucky to have that. She is also my
conscience. She’s very sharp, and her sense of aesthetics is
unbelievable."

Vahe and Betty have collaborated on many stage productions as well.
Betty directed and produced several plays that Vahe has written and
acted in. "I admire what she does, and I’m very lucky because I’m
surrounded by fantastic people. A lot of these young people, who come
and spend time here, you know, they inspire you, they give you
energy."

Vahe says the bottom line is that he loves people. His love of
people and their love for him are perhaps why he was able to beat
life-threatening pancreatic cancer a few years back. He says he loves
people not just because they love him. "It’s the other way around. I
love them. I have genuine compassion toward people. The older I get,
the more of that compassion I find for animals and trees. I love
animals and trees. Green stuff," like the beautiful orange and
mandarin trees that greet visitors to his studio.

* * *

The Milagros exhibition party will be held on Saturday, March 31,
2007, from 8 P.M. to 2 A.M. at Casitas Studios, 3191 Casitas Ave.
Atwater Village, California

************************************** *************************************

11. "Gor": It’s okay to say it

by Paul Chaderjian

gor (noun) — pronunciation: ‘gOr, ‘gor

1 : grammatically incorrect verb ending in Western Armenian.

2 : innovative musician, charismatic, acoustic Armenian folk star.

His name is blunt. Gor. Say it. It’s okay.

Gor. Say it again. You can, you know.

True. Many frustrated Armenian schoolmarms and parents have scolded
students to stop tacking a gor at the end of verbs. It may be
grammatically incorrect, but it’s also the name of the hottest music
act since [fill in the name of the last artist whose music you
downloaded].

Gor. Say it. Shout his name from rooftops, at church halls, and
kebob stands. Text message your friends. IM them with smiley faces.
Post his songs on your grandkids’ myspace page. Swap music files.
Blackberry – or even blueberry or raspberry if you prefer – this
breaking news story.

Sync up your iPod, because now, "Gor" is a more than an error in
Armenian usage. It’s the future, the present, a new age and new
beginning for Armenian music, and it’s making a mark in the diaspora.

"There are a lot of Armenians who are ready to listen to new kinds
of Armenian music," says Gor, "and I am offering them something new."
New and exciting, something that’s turning Generations X and Y on to
Armenian music.

Meet Gor Mkhitarian, former lead guitarist and second vocalist for
the hit Yerevan-based rock band Lav Eli. He taught himself how to play
the guitar, sang in the church choir in Vanadzor, writes his own songs
about life, love, about his struggles, about people living and
struggling.

Among his influences, he lists William Saroyan, Moby Dick, the
Beatles, one Aaron Stayman [more about his later], and the Armenian
culture. "When I was growing up in the 1980s, bands like Pink Floyd,
Led Zeppelin, the Beatles were censored," says Gor in perfect English.
"People couldn’t find these records, because they were called
‘bourgeois’ or capitalist music. You simply couldn’t find the music in
the stores."

Gor’s brothers scoured the black market and brought home bootleg
copies of Western music. He loved the sound so much that he formed a
rock band with his friends. "We were just playing and hanging out," he
says. "We loved the music, so we decided to play and record some
covers, and that’s how we started."

Behind the Iron Curtain, influenced by the history of the era,
inspired by Western rock, and seeded with the sounds of Rouben
Mateossian, Flora Mardirossian, Rouben Hakhverdian, and
then-underground star Arthur Meschian were the sprouts of Gor’s music
today.

What evolved from passion and love of music in 1995 was Lav Eli.
"The rock music we played was more like acoustic rock, more like the
Rolling Stones, the Dave Matthews band, that kind of music," says Gor.
"Not too heavy and not too soft."

Gor. Not too heavy. Not too soft. But blunt. 33. Tall, handsome, and
charismatic. A solo act for the past four years. Check the web. Google
his name. Search YouTube and Google Video. You’ll be surprised by the
buzz, the praise from a dozen publications, and the honors from
Armenian and non-Armenian award shows.

Now click on his album covers on gormusic.com, use the iTunes Music
Store to download his previous albums and pre-order his
yet-to-be-released fifth album, "Acoustic Folklore," from his
myspace.com/gormusic page.

"My work is all about Armenia, being Armenian, being a human being
in Armenia," says Gor. "It’s all Armenia, but with a lot of influence
coming from Western music. I’m trying to make a bridge between
cultures, especially between Armenians in Armenia and Armenians in the
diaspora."

Exhausted are the half-dozen remakes every Armenian musician has
sung once and then again. Enough already. . . . Gor sings the classics
too, but not in that old-fashioned way. This isn’t your grandmother’s
Gomidas or your uncle’s folk songs. Gor’s music is Armenian music
reinventing itself.

This is the music drafting into the Armenian culture young, savvy,
cultured fans, the MTV generation with sophisticated tastes. It’s
bringing back the comatose canon of oh-so-passé, circle-dancing tunes
from keyboard-generated duduks, oopman-doompa rhythms, wa-wa organs,
and drum machine-generated beats. [insert gagging noise here.]

Gimme a break. The folk that was dying a slow death is new again.
This is raw, new, and true. There is even a self-titled album, his
fourth, that’s all English. Supporting his albums are cutting-edge
music videos, like one directed by Roger Kupelian. There are also two
documentaries telling the story of Gor in the Lav Eli days, and the
story of Gor making it on his own in the U.S., making it by making
fans fall for his music one song at a time.

Power up your iPod. Listen to the accordion, the base, acoustic
guitar. You’re in a new world. A new age. Can you hear the violin? Can
you hear the flute? Those words in Armenian about a young man waking
up and understanding are poetic. Those heart-breaking words in English
are about the young man waking up in the shipping container he calls
home. These are the lyrics of the modern Armenian experience,
modern-day hayots badmutiun coming to life, words and music about the
unique experience of being Armenian.

Yo! You, the listener. Yo! You are special once again, in your
cocoon of an MP3 player, in your car, on the subway. Can you hear the
banjo? Turn it up. It’s all there, and it’s all Armenian, 100 percent.
Old folk and new folk, written, composed, and performed by a talented
musician from Vanadzor, whose chance meeting with a Bostonian created
the quantum leap in music.

"A friend of a friend, Raffi Meneshian from Boston, came to Armenia
for a few weeks," says Gor. "We had a party, and I played the guitar.
Raffi listened and told me that he wanted to release my first solo
album – just acoustic guitar and vocals."

The accidental meeting in 2001 led to the release of Yeraz by the
Boston-based Pomegranate Music label. That’s how the legend began, and
it’s caught on. What was recorded in bits and bytes was trail-blazing
Armenian music, fueled by the restless boredom and anxiety of a
culture sick of its parents’ and grandparents’ music.

In hotrods in New Jersey, on the freeways in So Cal, and on the 1
and 9 lines on the Upper West Side are random men and women listening
to revolutionary music, once underground, now energized by the rabid
getaway from years of take-me-seriously classical, estradayeen,
bee-bopping, Turkic rabiz, and whatever renovations of staid genres.

"The third album, ‘Episodes,’ is about episodes from peoples’
lives," says Gor. "There are a few acoustic songs, just guitar and
vocals like my first album. There are also experimental songs with a
lot of different musicians like in my second album."

Gor’s second album, Godfather Tom, showed off the musician’s uncanny
ability to take musical risks, mixing new instruments with his ancient
culture, using the cadence of the Armenian language with the backdrop
of Hillbilly, Rock, and Country all in one.

"If listeners like it, great," says Gor about his music. "If they
don’t, it’s just a matter of taste. We’re fine with that too. But I
think they’re going to like it, because the new generation is looking
for something new."

Gor is serving up original lyrics with pride. Candid lyrics.
Personal thoughts. "I don’t want to remember what I did the night
before," he sings, "but it’s evident who I am."

Now comes the fifth album, a return to his roots with folk songs,
while forging ahead with original creations. The album will be
released on Saturday, April 7, at Gor’s CD release concert at the
Barnsdell Gallery Theatre in Hollywood. If you live nearby, get your
ticket on itsmyseat.com.

"The album is a limited edition, performed with acoustic guitars and
featuring Djivan Gasparyan, Jr.," says Gor. Joining him on stage at
the Barnsdell, in addition to Djivan, Jr., will be several talented
musicians like Ara Dabanjian from the band Element and, drum roll
please . . . Aaron Stayman. [Remember his name from earlier in the
article?]

"I met my banjo player, Aaron Stayman, in Armenia," explains Gor.
"Aaron was serving in the Peace Corps in Armenia. I saw him in
Vanadzor and Ijevan. He is a great musician, so we got together, and
we recorded this album. Since then, we’ve recorded several of my
albums with him."

Gor says Stayman is his biggest musical influence. Stayman is a
medical student at Tufts and will be coming out to Los Angeles to
perform at Gor’s CD release party. "Without him, my music wouldn’t be
the same," says Gor.

It’s the old world meeting the new, the banjo-playing, future
doctor, Peace Corps volunteer meshing with the language of Mashtots.
The bridge between East and West. A liaison world music publications
are calling "Post-Soviet Alternative Folk Rock."

But Gor is beyond labels. He’s fresh. He’s new. He’s fun to listen
to, and he has the ethereal IT. Underground. No more. Gor is out
there, and his music is selling at Armenian record stores, on Amazon
and CDRama.com. Armenian music – Welcome to the 21st century, baby,
and turn the alarm clock off already.

"I woke up, I saw, I understood everything," he sings. It’s cutting
edge. It’s pioneering. And it’s unusually hip. Fans say Gor represents
a new generation of Armenians who are redefining what the culture
thinks of as Armenian culture.

"We started to sell my album ‘Yeraz’ not only in the Armenian
market," says Gor, "but also on the Internet, Amazon, and CD Baby and
CD Rama, and we’ve had a good response from listeners. Some say they
don’t understand any words, but they love it."

Yeraz, his first solo CD released in 2002, fused the unique sounds
and lyrics of ancient Armenian folk music with modern rock and
sometimes, experimental sounds. The innovative and original
combination quickly garnered global attention, winning Gor acclaim
from all over the world, as well as accolades such as "best
alternative rock singer" and "best world music album."

Thousands are now fans, chanting his name at small and large concert
venues in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, London, D.C., at UCLA, San
Francisco State University, Brown University, and Harvard. He has
played more than a hundred concerts since leaving Armenia, and fans
are sure more are ahead.

"The Harvard concert stands out as one of the more memorable
concerts," says Gor. "It was in a very cozy venue, and the audience,
mostly non-Armenians, wanted to know about Armenians and Middle
Eastern cultures. We had questions and answers, and it was more than a
concert. I was able to tell them about my songs, the homeland, and
life experiences."

Next month, Gor returns to the homeland after a four-year break. He
will join his brother Tirayr Mkhitarian and Mher Manoukyan, the other
members of Lav Eli, and the guitar-playing trio will play at Yerevan’s
Avangard Folk Club on April 27 and the State Puppet Theatre on May 5.

"I want to see how much has changed in the past few years," says
Gor. "Aside from seeing my family once again, I want to see the whole
scene, political, musical, social. I want to see everything." Count on
his muses to visit and another set of songs about the experience of an
earthquake survivor seeing the aftermath of the political and social
earthquakes taking place since the shocker that hit at 11:41 A.M. on
December 7, 1988.

Wait. There’s more on his plate. As always. There is Gor’s
appearance at the June 1 Children’s Day Festival at the Cafesjian
Center for the Arts at the Cascade in the heart of Yerevan. More than
40 thousand children and their parents are expected to gather at the
Cascade for the annual festival and concert. Among the headliners will
be none other than the man being celebrated in this article.

If the choice was Gor or no Gor, chances are you’d choose the
former. Why? Because it’s new. It’s fresh. It’s addicting. It’s Gor.
And he’s got banjos and Gomidas on one expressionist musical canvas.

So show the schoolmarms the birdie and start saying "Gor" as many
times as you want. He’s now part of the new Armenian lexicon.

**************************************** ***********************************

12. Through the lens of Kaloust Babian

by Gregory Lima

You may never have met Kaloust Babian, but if you wish to look at our
world through the lens of someone who could be a warm friend with a
traditionally generous Armenian spirit and who is also a master
photographer, someone who says to you "I want no more of you through
this lens than to relax into your irrepressible self" then look him
up. He has been exhibiting in Yerevan but he will soon be showing in
San Francisco and later in Los Angeles.

On my first round in the gallery in Yerevan, the work on exhibition
showed a painterly portraitist with an eye for infinite shades of
black and gray who managed to coax a sense of the person’s own
intimate light out of the darkness. Each person seemed to be his own
candle in the dark. Walking on, portrait after portrait, out of its
shadows the light of a unique self, often someone you would like to
meet personally, seemed to emerge.

Was there not something very Armenian in these irrepressible bright
flickers in the shadows of melancholy here? These were very personal
pictures.

At an exhibition, time allowing, it has been useful for me as an
observer to generally make three rounds. The first may be rather
quick, seeking an overall first impression and a general theme or
particularity. On the second the focus is on whatever catches a deeper
interest. The third round is walking the exhibition with the artist,
if that is possible, seeking to be more deeply involved in particular
works at a personal level through the artist’s eyes. At this
exhibition in Yerevan, Kaloust Babian found me before I finished the
first round and he made me glad he did.

Born in Lebanon, he is a child of Genocide survivors, both of his
parents orphaned. At the age of twenty he left for Paris and later New
York where he learned his trade. For many years he has been living in
Toronto. In 1980, taking his cameras and lights along, he joined what
he called the first Canadian-organized trip to Armenia. The remarkable
photographs he took on this journey, largely of people he encountered
some quarter of a century ago, create a benchmark of personal style
and context against which the changes that have since occurred in
Yerevan may be measured. These archival photographs make up the bulk
of the exhibition.

At the gallery in the Yerevan Fine Arts Academy the exhibition is
organized in three parts. The first is a selection of photographs
taken in Yerevan in 1980. The second records an event upon proceeding
to Tbilisi. This is followed on the final wall by a selection of faces
photographed in the diaspora.

It was while pondering the Tbilisi photographs that Kaloust Babian
found me. I was standing there baffled, perhaps frowning. These
photographs were very consciously like stills taken of a film and
unlike the work that proceeded or, glancing ahead, unlike the work
that would follow. They showed a bearded man with intense eyes that
seemed to devour the camera. "Who is he?" I asked.

"Don’t you recognize him?" he said, as if I should be embarrassed.
He told me that is the greatest filmmaker that has ever lived – or he
would have been had the Soviets not crippled him by forbidding him a
camera, imprisoning him, and denying him any further use of the
resources with which he had produced his masterpieces! It is Sergei
Parajanov.

Yes, I replied, trying to recover some dignity; he did Shadows of
Forgotten Ancestors and The Color of Pomegranates, the color symbolic
of Armenia. But I know nothing of his history. How did you meet him?

* Parajanov’s last, lost film

It was 1980 and Parajanov had been released from long exile in
Siberia, he related. In Yerevan I searched out and found the composer
who had done the musical scores for his films. The composer had his
current address in Tbilisi. When the group arrived in Tbilisi, taking
my camera and my lights and wrapping that address around a $50 bill, I
gave it to the first taxi driver I could find. It was my passport to
his doorstep.

I was worried that I was intruding on him and he might slam the door
in my face, Babian continued. But he received me and I offered him my
sincere respect. As one Armenian to another. We found common ground,
and by a perception that needs neither words nor explanation, we soon
came to understand each other. It was then that I took out my camera
and the lights. It was an electrifying moment. The sight of camera,
lights, transformed him. These were instruments of his genius and they
had been and still were forbidden to him. At first he stepped back as
if he was being baited, but realizing it was otherwise, he seized the
possibilities.

From that moment on everything changed. Parajanov once again became
the filmmaker and Babian merely a camera operator under his direction.

A film requires a concept of what you are trying to achieve and the
means to arrive at a destination. It may require costumes. It will
always require a setting. The setting may have symbolic value. A flood
of ideas was apparently racing through Parajanov’s fertile mind. As
Babian set up his camera tripod and arranged his lights, Parajanov
changed into costumes, selected backdrops and set the stage for a
narrative that he now seemed to find compelling.

Among the many photographs of eloquent narrative value taken on this
day in Tbilisi, one particularly stood out for me. Parajanov stands to
the rear of a gate. Look closely. The bars, both vertical and
horizontal, are both real and symbolic. He was still under house
arrest. He had been in the Soviet Gulag and even after his release he
was still in prison.

Under house arrest he was not permitted to pursue his profession.
For a filmmaker, creating a scenario meant that to be viewed through
the lens of a camera will make possible something more than mundane
daily life. His costumes are choices that go beyond apparel into the
selection of identities. To select, to act out your choices and your
dreams, even if it can be only through a camera of single, isolated
images that may be arranged in a sequence, that is a taste of freedom,
even when you are otherwise behind bars. Through Babian’s still
camera, Parajanov was acting out his last, lost film. We can only
guess at the script that played in his mind.

"Hours passed like moments. It was not a photo session, it was a
celebration." he said. After the last roll of film he carried to
Tbilisi was used up and the camera lay there inert, Babian asked him,
"What does it mean to be an Armenian?"

Parajanov answered by drawing a sketch. It was of an uncompleted
face slashed by an imprisoning line that slanted between the ground
and the sky. This is what it means to be an Armenian, he said, and
beneath the sketch he wrote a single word. He wrote it in Russian.
"Pain."

Babian placed that sketch after the last photo in this section of
the exhibition.

* Black and white

As we moved on to more contemporary faces in the Armenian diaspora, we
talked about his style in taking his photographs and why almost the
entire exhibition was in black and white. He said the last part of the
question was easy. He started with black and white and became very
comfortable with it. In black-and-white photography you can control
everything in every part of the process. Also, he saw black as a
nuanced color, a color of many graduations and tonal values,
permitting lovely contrasts and highlights that can be worked as an
artist works on his or her pallette. He sometimes spends hours with
the light and dark in his negatives to bring out what he sees as
possible and desirable in the print. As for his style, to be a
photographer, he said, is to master light and dark and to calibrate
focus and composition. But he believes it all starts with attitude.

You start with simplicity as an attitude you bring to your subject.
Not simplicity in the sense of a technique. You begin with utter
naïveté, without a trace of cynicism. He discovered this attitude, an
openness to the fullness of experience, in the most creative people he
photographed. He learned that when he approached a subject as a true
friend approaches a friend, totally free of any demand, and should
that friend respond to him as a photographer with a camera in his
hands, the almost wordless dialogue that will become the picture has
begun. The rest is a matter of technicalities in the operations of the
camera. He truly believes this makes a difference in the quality of
the work. When simplicity as an attitude and love as part of the
alchemy informs the process, it transforms it.

Whether or not this approach will work for anyone else may still
have to be proved. But as we passed together before his portraits of
Armenians of the diaspora, I could see that it had clearly worked for
him and for his body of work. This was a collection of photographs of
thoughtful men and attractive women in contexts that were familiar to
each. For all the often very deep shadows, the hallmark of Babian’s
work is clarity, along with an ability to bring out the subject’s
energy and intelligence. Part of the charm of the exhibition is the
certainty that each person photographed was delighted in the process
and impressed with the result.

For all of that, my favorite photograph was not there or in any of
the three parts. It was in the entrance foyer and it struck me as
exceptionally lovely well before we met. Three faces nuzzle each other
in a triangle as individual and as similar as the petals of a flower.

If it seems to be a flower, it is one that is caught in a soft
breeze in the sunshine. I had to look up and find who these faces
were. It was a photograph of his wife and children taken when the
world was younger – Hasmik, Sarik and Varag. I suspect it was taken
before either fame or fortune. Which may prove his point. Take your
pictures with love and if you are Babian and have a darkroom you can
create beautiful pictures.

* * *

Photos: Kaloust Babian’s portrait of Sergei Parajanov, Tbilisi,
September 1980. See also his portrait of Vahe Berberian on page C1.

********************************************* ******************************

13. Concert marks composer Adam Khudoyan’s 85th anniversary

NEW YORK – On February 20, a memorial concert was presented in Yerevan
to mark the 85th anniversary of composer Adam Khudoyan’s birth
(1921-2000).

The event took place at the Khachaturian House Museum and featured
many of Khudoyan’s chamber music compositions. Among the performers
were violinist Edvard Tatevosyan and cellist Aram Talalyan of the
Komitas Quartet, cellist Levon Arakelyan, soprano Alina Pahlevanyan,
and pianist Sahan Arzruni.

The program, which was carried by Armenian State Television, was
organized by Armenia’s Ministry of Culture, the Khachaturian House
Museum, and Arzruni.

In addition to his performance on the piano, Arzruni spoke about
Khudoyan’s life and music. What follows is an abridged translation of
his remarks.

* Arzruni’s remarks

I remember very clearly – very vividly – the trip I made to Yerevan in
the fall of 1993, during which time I stayed at the Khudoyans’ home as
their guest. In those days, Armenia was in dire shape – there was no
running water, no electricity.

Edvard Mirzoyan, the composer, suggested that rather than staying at
the Armenia Hotel, I should live with the Khudoyans, so as not to feel
lonely, to be in a homelike surrounding, encircled by people with good
intentions.

We had a wonderful time over that entire week. Khudoyan himself was
a happy-go-lucky fellow, gregarious and giving, to the extent that he
and his wife made their bedroom available to me so my stay there would
be more comfortable and pleasant.

I remember the visit well. Ksenya would often prepare a dish which I
liked very much: diced boiled potatoes, sliced raw onions, fresh
cilantro (it is called "hamem" in Armenia) and bits of smoked
whitefish (named "sig" and found in abundance in Lake Sevan). Dressing
it in vinegar and vegetable oil, if available, supplemented by large
chunks of bread, we would devour it with a healthy appetite.

At some point it was the designated day to take a bath. Maybe once
or twice a week, one had a chance to bathe, for you had to collect the
water, and then wait until the electrical power was restored for a few
hours to heat the water. When the conditions were right on that day, I
immediately undressed, with the water pitcher in one hand, and the
washcloth in the other, to get cleaned.

And suddenly, without warning, the door to the washroom flew open
and Mr. Khudoyan entered, as if it were the most natural thing in the
world, and announced that he was going to scrub my back. I stood
there, naked, not knowing whether to be shocked or embarrassed; and
without even waiting for my consent, Adik (Adam’s diminutive name)
took the pitcher and washcloth from my hand and commenced with the
scrub down.

Now that’s hospitality.

In the music world, Khudoyan and his four colleagues – his musical
soulmates Edvard Mirzoyan, Alexandre Arutiunyan, Arno Babadjanyan, and
Lazar Saryan – established the Armenian musical school. I personally
find strong parallels between Khudoyan’s approach to music and that of
Mussorgsky. Like Mussorgsky, Khudoyan employed chordal progressions
that are unusual, unbounded, even unacceptable to the traditional
rules of harmony. However, after hearing such progressions several
times, they become perfectly acceptable and even agreeable to the ear.

Khudoyan’s oeuvre contains works of diverse genre, with a particular
emphasis on works for the cello. I remember asking Medea Abramyan, the
queen of Armenian cellists, why Khudoyan gave such significance to the
cello and wrote so much for it.

She related the following story: "In the 50s, when Khudoyan visited
Leninakan (now Gyumri) to attend a cello concert, suddenly a mouse
appeared on the stage, ran and sat right in front of the cello. There
the mouse settled down and listened to the sound of the cello as if in
a trance. When the piece was over, the mouse got up, ran off, and
disappeared. And in that moment, Khudoyan concluded that if a common
mouse could be transfixed by the sound of the cello, then surely human
beings, too, would find cello’s timbre mesmerizing. And that was the
genesis of his love affair with the cello."

Blessed be Adam Khudoyan’s living memory.

***************************************** **********************************

14. In Illusion, Michael Goorjian tells a tale of tragic love

by Tamar Salibian

"There’s no romance today," declares elderly filmmaker Donald Baines.
Baines, played by Kirk Douglas in Michael Goorjian’s film Illusion,
speaks to a journalist from his king-sized bed at the start of the
film. His speech is slurred from an unidentified illness. Donald
coughs incessantly, pausing only to ask the journalist to look at a
painting of the classic balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and
Juliet that hangs on the wall. Donald states, "Romance is found in the
space between people. That’s where you find the magic." What follows
is an intricately woven, intellectually driven film exploring tragic
love, family relationships, and the space between people.

Adapted from the 17th-century play L’Illusion comique by Pierre
Corneille, Illusion tells the story of Donald Baines and his son
Christopher. In Illusion, Donald embarks on a mystical journey to find
out what happened to the son he never acknowledged as his own. In the
original play by Corneille, the main character seeks out a magician to
help him find his son by presenting him with three "visions" from
various points in his son’s life. The play was often performed in a
grotto or cave in France to heighten the feeling of the mystical or
divine.

In actor-director Goorjian’s adaptation, co-written with Tressa Di
Figlia Brendon, Chris Horvath, and Ron Marasco, Donald is approached
as if in a dream by his deceased film editor, Stan. Played by
co-writer Marasco, Stan asks Donald to join him in a movie theater to
view some "film reels" from Christopher’s life. With Stan playing the
magician to Donald’s ailing central character, the movie theater
becomes the divine setting where a father is pulled through a
celluloid looking glass to discover the details of his son’s life.

As the first "reel" begins, Michael Goorjian appears as Christopher
Baines, a seemingly innocent young teen riding around town on a
motorcycle. Like Jean-Pierre Leaud’s Antoine Doinel in Francois
Truffaut’s New Wave films, Christopher is comfortable in his solitude,
and yet he anxiously yearns for companionship and love. Christopher
first seeks out the object of his affections in a schoolyard.

At first, Isabelle, played by Karen Tucker, is cautious. She worries
about what her friends will think if she speaks to Christopher, as
they all think he’s a "weirdo." Separated by a large wrought-iron gate
and a gaggle of females, Isabelle and Christopher begin a lifelong,
almost impossible romance which Donald watches on the film "reels."
Donald Baines understands the difficulties of love. "Love has to cost
something," he says. "The greater the love, the higher the cost. If
the film has to end tragically, you let it." However, as the film
progresses and Donald becomes more aware of the consequences of
Christopher’s love, his own views on life and love begin to change.
Donald soon begins to yearn to help the son he never met.

The young Christopher is inexperienced yet tenacious. Goorjian plays
the role well, pining and desperate for his love’s response.
Christopher often hears his father’s voice in his head scolding him
and putting him down. Donald is bewildered by the notion that
Christopher thinks he’s not good enough for his father’s approval.
Christopher’s internal voice repeats throughout the film’s
play-within-a-play motif, while Donald’s reaction to it intensifies.
"I’ve lived like a coward," he tells Stan. "My son, he’s not a coward.
He suffered and I lived like a king in a mansion, making movies."

Goorjian doesn’t forget that Illusion is based on a play. He
presents various theatrical motifs to the viewer throughout the film.
The physical space between individuals is constantly evident; from the
first "reel" as Christopher approaches Isabelle near the schoolyard,
to the second "reel" where an older, more reserved Christopher,
working for a performance artist, reconnects with Isabelle through a
twist of fate.

Goorjian is an experienced actor. Having appeared in films, theater,
and television since his teenage years, he also started the
award-winning Buffalo Nights Theater in 1991 with a group of friends.
Goorjian’s background in theater is clear and adds to the film’s
visual landscape, driving forward a magical quality throughout.
Goorjian’s transformations from young teen to disillusioned young man
to an older, more experienced individual reflect a studied and skilled
actor.

Playwright Tony Kushner adapted Corneille’s L’Illusion comique in
1988 to create his own hit The Illusion. In a 1996 interview, Kushner
noted that, "Playwriting is dialogic and dialectic and is
fundamentally always more about an argument than it is about a
narrative progression." In adapting the play to the screen, Goorjian
adopts elements of Kushner’s approach. The film is not excessively
plot driven, but rather it presents a series of events meant to push
the viewer to ask the same questions that Donald Baines asks himself.
Does love have to cost something? Must we settle for the tragic
ending?

The film’s main characters have lived with immense loneliness in
their lives because of their various choices and circumstances, yet as
the film nears its end, the main characters are challenged to question
these choices. Additionally, the characters discover that many of
their own illusory façades are often simply façades.

Donald Baines says, "Sometimes I wish I could rewrite my life." As
the film nears its end, Baines is given the opportunity to affect
change in his son’s life, to divert his son from harm. What results is
a touching connection between father and son that clearly resonates.
In this magical film, if the viewer is willing to take a leap with the
characters, the resulting notion is that sometimes, we can all rewrite
parts of our lives.

* * *

For showtimes and more information, visit the film’s official website,
illusionthemovie.com

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15. Women in action and in pain

* Women in Armenia open a window with alternative art

by Betty Panossian-Ter Sargssian

Is a woman in action necessarily aggressive, resentful, and
vindictive? The experimental artists participating in an exhibition in
Yerevan titled "Women in Action" certainly seem to think so.

An installation and video art exhibition curated by Eva Khachatrian
at the Armenian Center for Contemporary Experimental Art in Yerevan,
which runs from March 9 to April 3, touches upon issues like
sexuality, gender relations, and life determined by a male-dominated
society in a rather cross mood.

Three video pieces and three installations by Armenian artists take
upon themselves the mission to open the eyes of society to what it
really means to be a woman. "Women in Action" aims to increase the
self awareness and confidence of women in contemporary Armenian
society.

A poster of a young girl by Diana Hakobian proclaims six new
commandments in English. These are repeated in Armenian through a
loudspeaker. "I have to believe in my strength, I have to be brave, I
have to believe in my opportunities, I have to . . ." and the
recitation goes on in a rather naive voice.

Another installation by Shushan Petrossian presents on a black frame
a new perception of women’s anatomy, where sex and desire, chocolate
and beating compose the "Mixture of my body." It may be the boldest of
the works on exhibit, one that may provoke thought and capture
attention.

Other works touch on the obsession of many women with diets and
desperate attempts to have a desirable form in an appearance-obsessed
male-dominated society (Diet, by Anna Vardanian, video art) and the
invisible wall that cuts short the flight of young women (My pain is
your wall, my freedom is your wall, by Mariam Vardazarian, video
art).

Women in action attempts to cry out loud the pain and resentment of
those trapped in the patriarchal society of today’s Armenia, albeit
without much originality.

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16. Essay: Two girlfriends celebrate life

by Armen D. Bacon

We had taken this trip to New York on a whim. Months ago, I had
spotted the New York Times ad for a one-night-only Lincoln Center
concert performed by my favorite Broadway torch singer. Within
minutes, we had impulsively booked our round trip flights, found a
boutique hotel near Times Square, locked in aisle seats and were, as
they say, good to go.

Our friendship had spanned more than three decades. We had first met
as international students studying abroad. Young and adventurous,
carefree and curious, we had traveled through Europe together and
discovered not only ourselves, but also a unique and special
sisterhood.

Our friendship was the perfect complement to studying language and
literature, culture and cuisine. She was from Los Angeles; I was from
Fresno. She was Jewish; I was Armenian. She had two brothers; I had
two sisters. We were different and yet so much alike. Two young women,
oblivious of our future casts and about to come of age during a "year
in Provence."

A lot can happen in 30 years: marriage, children, divorce, more
marriage, careers and even grandchildren. We had both experienced the
blessings and unanticipated curses of life on earth. But here we were,
30 years later, still standing and eager to resume our travels as a
twosome — even if only for a long weekend in Manhattan.

On Day 2 she quietly announced that she had planned a secret special
activity. Not a hint or clue of its nature, not even after much
coaxing by me. I made her promise that it would not be anything
involving helicopters or tour guides. She assured me that it would not
as she escorted me to Grand Central Station, eventually arriving at a
terminal destination that housed a small, womblike, soundproof booth.

She invited me to enter. The room contained two simple metal chairs,
a matching table adorned with a lamplight and box of Kleenex. There
was also a pair of oversized and slightly intimidating professional
microphones placed on the table.

Off in the corner was an elaborate recording system. Her surprise
was about to reveal itself. She had decided that it was time to record
a piece of our life story — including a chronicle of our 30-year
friendship. She had intuitively known that this was a momentous period
of passage for me. Most of the interview would be about me. But our
chance meeting, our enduring friendship, the trials and tribulations
of life that test relationships and bring people together would all be
part of the story.

We had 40 minutes of recording time. She would conduct the
interview. And so, after a few deep breaths, the questions began. Her
open-ended questions would unfold the mysteries of my past. What was
it like growing up in an Armenian family? What were my favorite
childhood memories? What was my motivation for leaving Fresno and
studying abroad? How did I meet the love of my life? What were the
defining moments that challenged my everything? What were my hopes and
dreams for the future?

There. It was done. Together, we had chronicled the journey. She
told me a copy would be sent to the Library of Congress for
posterity’s sake. I was given my own audio CD version. The recording
contained questions and answers that touched on life from kindergarten
to college, adulthood and beyond. We had discussed and recorded it all
with eight minutes left to spare. I think we both realized the
significance of those remaining eight minutes: they signified that our
story was not yet finished. There would be more life to live.

And so, for the remainder of our trip, that is what we did. We
lived. And lived it up. We behaved (and misbehaved) like carefree
schoolgirls. We lifted our glasses over pizza and pastrami. We scouted
celebrities and experimented with new eye makeup. We shopped till we
dropped and bought pretzels from the street vendors. We walked the
Village. Soho. Chelsea Market. Bartered for street bargains. And then
stood in the middle of Times Square and made ridiculous poses while
the other person captured it on film. This would be the perfect start
of a new and next chapter.

We concluded that life is good. Worth living. A true cause for
celebration. As we boarded the airplane for our return flight back to
reality, we smiled, knowing that we had renewed the friendship that
had transformed us from college student to world traveler, from
acquaintance to trusted confidante, from sister to soul mate. We were
two women now bonded for life.

As if to mirror real life, the flight home was not without a few
bumps and turbulence. But we landed safely to blue skies and
California sunshine. We were exhausted and yet, exhilarated. It had
been the perfect weekend.

* * *

Armen D. Bacon was born and raised in Fresno, Calif., and is senior
director, communications/public relations for the Fresno County Office
of Education. She received her B.A. in psychology from Fresno State
and holds a master’s degree in organizational management. Since 2004,
her thoughts and writings have been published in the Valley Voices
section of The Fresno Bee and in April 2007, she will launch a daily
radio feature titled "Live, Laugh, Love" for K-JEWEL radio.

Armen Bacon’s essay begins a news series in the Arts and Culture
section that will feature short creative fiction and nonfiction pieces
from our community of readers. For consideration, submit your original
work to [email protected]

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Plea se send your news to [email protected] and your letters to
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