Flowers and Roots of Central Asia

The “Aralash” Fusion Festival for visual and performing arts was held in Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan as part of the Regional Arts and Culture Program sponsored by the Swiss Cooperation Office.  In 2008, as part of the same program, the city of Tashkent hosted “KinoVisA”, the Central Asian Forum of Visual Anthropology, and Dushanbe presented the Regional “Unity in Diversity” Conference in 2009.

 The festival’s program was curated by Ovliakuli Khodzhakuli, who was justly dubbed “the director of all Central Asia” during the opening ceremony, a characterization fully endorsed by Lorent Guy, director of the Swiss Office.  Khodzhakuli managed to bring together the most interesting theatre, dance and music groups from Uzbekistan, Kirghizia, Tadzhikistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenia that operate across genres (translated from Kyrgyz “aralash” means “medley” or the more familiar to us “fusion”).   They gave their performances on the big stage of the Chingiz Aitmatov Russian Drama Theatre.

The young Kyrgyz director Nurlan Asanbekov and his experimental nomadic Sakhna Theatre presented a dramatic dance production of “Aksatkyn and Kulmyrza”. The story of the Kyrgyz Romeo and Juliet was given a metaphoric resolution at the crossroads of folklore and jazz, performed by “Salty Nuts”, poetry (author Barpy Alykulov) and ritual dance.  The young actors, the contemporary lighting work, the stylish national costumes, the well-chosen movements (choreographer Kasym Tynybekov) make this production a notable event at any festival, but, so far, the young director lacks a personal relationship toward the national epic: the production turned out to be a beautiful, authentic illustration, a promising debut.  

Tajikistan was represented by a joint project from the musical group “Shams” (Dushanbe) and dancer Muzaffar Iskandarov, who managed to combine Pamir art with Sufi dance.  Percussionist Bakhodur Davlatov chased the evil spirits away from the festival with the sound of his drums; the musicians performed a contemporary arrangement of Tajik folklore: “Dunei Foni” (“A Mortal World”), “Eri Man” (“My Path”), “A Guli Lola” (“A Tulip Flower”).   Muzaffar Iskandarov, dressed in bright national attire and white headdress, was spinning around on the stage, gradually widening the radius of his spins, dancing with more and more fervor. It was a most bewitching spinning dance, accompanied by Sufi songs, praising God and questioning the meaning of life, set to the poems of Rumi, Omar Khayyam and other Asian classics.

Equally worthy of note is Kazakhstan’s dance show “Tamyr”, produced by the Gabbasovy twins, Gulmira and Gulnara.  Their theatre “The Gabbasovy Sisters’ Company” is already over 15 years old; it is the most famous contemporary dance company in Central Asia.  “Tamyr” (“Roots”) is embellished by the original music of Kuat Shildebaev and is dedicated to the conflict of female poetic beginnings with contemporary realities.  Dancing as such is not prevalent – before us we see a theatre, where plasticity and gestures replace words. 

…A baby’s legs are tied together, but suddenly the rope is cut, and he goes out into the world: what awaits him there?   In Kazakhstan, this tradition of cutting the rope around a baby’s feet is akin to Orthodox Baptism.  The scissors are entrusted to a respected woman, a “godmother.” 

…A woman by the hearth with a kettle and some drinking bowls.  She raises children, born in torment by another woman, miserable and ne’er-do-well: compassion and love are the same for everyone.  For the latter, all attempts to conform to the furious pace of life are manifested in awkward, wild movements of half-girl, half-beast.  The colossal patience of the former is “clothed” in calm fluidity.  The two reconcile through sacred tea-drinking by the fireplace. 

The young Didar Theatre from the south Kyrgyz city of Osh brought the production of “Adam” by a young director Kamat Kasenov, based on the contemporary play of the same name by Sultan Raev.  The support of Akim Batyrov, head of the “Saray” village hall of the Karasuysky District of the Oshskaya Region, played a big part in the establishment of the theatre – thanks to Batyrov the theatre acquired a stage in the village hall’s Palace of Culture.  Didar set a new landmark in the cultural life of Kirghizia’s southern capital.   In the show, a man mourns his dead beloved.  Alymkul Isakov’s passionate soliloquy and lamentation over the body stretched out on the gurney (Kukun Shatmanova) called to memory the recent tragic events that took place in Osh, which were now retold in metaphorical theatrical form.  

The showing of the 2005 movie “Oedipus” became the festival’s brightest moment.  The project was put together by filmmakers from three different countries:  director Ovliakuli Khodzhakuli and actor Anna Mele (Oedipus) – Turkmenistan; actress Dzhamilia Sydykbaeva, Jocasta, project director Gulbara Tolomushova and cameraman Aibek Dzhangaziev – Kirghizia; the movie was filmed in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan, and the bulk of post-production work took place in Uzbekistan.  The project was made possible through the grant from the Open Society Institute-Budapest organization. 

The search for one’s identity, not so much a personal, but rather an ancestral, a national one, is a loud motif in “Oedipus”.   Oedipus bursts out vehemently in Turkmen, “I want to know my family.  I want to know my origins.”  All of this is very near and dear to people of the post-Soviet space, whose consciousness has become warped by the enormous life changes.  The movie is filmed in monochrome, and it shifts to color only when Oedipus blinds himself: he tears silver rings out of his ankles, melts them over the fire and coats his eye sockets with molten metal. 

“Mavrigi”, a group from Bukhara (Uzbekistan), closed the festival at the highest of levels.  Mavrigi is a musical style that combines Bukhara’s dance, song and musical folklore of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Beautiful female dancers take turns walking out onto the stage to the accompaniment of male vocals and doyras (drums with jingles) and spring into a bout of magnificent impromptu dancing.  One distinguishing characteristic of Uzbek female dance is the arms – so pliable, so soft that they appear boneless.  The Bukhar men’s clothing has gold on it; the little dust storm hat with a piece of fabric hanging over the face is an important feature; in female dress the luxurious white blouses with wide sleeves, the tunics embroidered with gold, the white veils for dancers of all ages create an important palette of color.  The trance that the girls fall into to the rhythm of doyras worked the audience up just as well as rock groups at European venues. The Mavrigi group has been restoring the authenticity of musical and dance tradition for many years.   The result is the unfailing delight of the audience.


Ekaterina Vasenina 


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