Georgian-Armenian dispute over 'wedding dance'

Georgian-Armenian dispute over 'wedding dance'

A video of the 'Gevorkyan Dance Academy' with the headline 'Armenian Wedding Dance' has caused a strong reaction among Georgian users of Facebook. The video, according to some reports, was recorded in the United States. The explanation to it says that Vartan and Siranush Gevorkyan themselves are performing a duo of a wedding dance. In recent years no event has attracted so much attention from the Georgian Facebook community, as the message that the country "is being deprived of its main national dance." Some users have postulated that the Georgian Ministry of Culture should file a lawsuit in a US court and appeal to UNESCO for the protection of its national heritage.

It is completely pointless to argue whether it is a Georgian dance or an Armenian one. It was performed for the first time by the great Georgian dancers, the married couple Iliko Sukhishvili and Nino Ramishvili, based on dance traditions of the Caucasian peoples and synthesizing several dance forms popular in Georgia and Dagestan. It is no coincidence that the prototype of this dance is called the 'Lekuri' (it is the Lezginka, but in the Georgian version it is much more complex and diverse).

Georgian and Armenian art historians and scientists have argued and argue about many things, but until now there have never been disputes about ownership of a wedding dance.

The emotional reaction in Georgian society is not surprising – the dance holds a special place in Georgian culture. The dance is performed at a non-professional level only in exceptional cases. Most people dance it only once, at the most important event in their lives, during their own wedding.

The grandson of Iliko Sukhishvili – Iliko junior – continued the work of his ancestors, preserved the famous folk dance ensemble and made sure that young people often perform dances from its repertoire at parties. It has become fashionable to dance at night in Tbilisi. 

But the wedding dance is not and cannot be among these dances, not only because of its complexity, but also because of its sacredness. There is a sensitive and attentive attitude towards this dance, because it is associated with sacred family traditions and is considered to be a part of Georgia's national identity. President Saakashvili even initiated the introduction of Georgian dance to the school curriculum.

Many Georgian composers, choreographers, singers and poets sang the praises of this dance. Composer Zakhary Paliashvili included it as a separate scene to his opera 'Daisi'. Vartan and Siranush Gevorkyan perform the wedding dance to the music of 'Daisi'. They dance well, but they are still far from Iliko and Nino, or Pridon Sulaberidze and Iamze Dolaberidze, or modern professional Georgian performers.

When rumors about the reaction of Georgian society reached the 'Dance Academy of Armenia', it issued a special statement. In Tbilisi, a document was issued by the Executive Director of 'The Peace Foundation', Georgi Tumasyan. The statement says that the Academy was not going to steal anyone else's national heritage, and the name 'Armenian Wedding Dance' was a 'personal initiative', for which the Academy is not responsible.

According to the heads of the organization, the ensemble, which became the focus of the international controversy, was founded in 1987 under the name 'Friendship'. At the time, Armenia invited choreographers from many Soviet republics, including Georgia, for the performance of national dances. In addition, according to the report of the Academy, its dancers regularly perform Russian, Moldovan, Georgian, Greek and Jewish dances in the US. "We never had the intention to steal Georgian dances, or the dances of any other nations, and pass them off as Armenian," the statement of the Gevorkyan Dance Academy says.