Uzbekistan Ensemble in Seattle: A Gift of Love
By Spring Gibson
The North American Debut of the Uzbekistan Folklore Ensemble occurred in Seattle in July, 1990. It began eleven years ago as a friendship between two women from opposite sides of the world; it has blossomed into a full scale cultural exchange. When People’s Artist of Uzbekistan, Kizlarkhon Dustmukhamedova, first met American dancer and scholar Laurel Victoria Grey, neither guessed that the bond between them would create a bridge of friendship linking two very different cultures. Over the years many artists, performers, and just plain folk have had the opportunity to cross that bridge forged by these two women. In October of 1989, Gray led a delegation of thirty dancers and theatrical workers who performed in Tashkent and created collaborative works with their Soviet counterparts. The latest group to come across this magical friendship bridge has been Tashkent’s Uzbekistan Folklore Ensemble, which made its North American debut as part of Seattle’s Goodwill Games Arts Festival.
Hosted by the Uzbek Dance Society, Tanavar Dance Ensemble, and the Seattle-Soviet Theater Arts Exchange, the Tashkent-based company enjoyed the honor of being the only ethnic dance group featured in the Goodwill Games Arts Festival. Planning had begun back in 1989 when Games organizer Bob Walsh entrusted Laurel Victoria Gray with selecting an Uzbek dance group to highlight the special sister-city relationship between Seattle and Tashkent. No easy task, since Uzbekistan abounds with accomplished dancers. But Gray, who had long cherished the dream of bringing an entire ensemble to Seattle, felt that it was crucial the group include male dancers since past delegations had sent only female soloists. During her two month stay in the Soviet Union last fall, she attended several performances of the Uzbekistan Folklore Ensemble, and decided they were perfect for the Goodwill Games Arts Festival.
Socializing aside, the concerts themselves were most definitely the main priority for everyone involved in the exchange. The Uzbekistan Folklore Ensemble understood the honor which had been given them. They were determined to show that the trust in their abilities had been well-placed and that their American friends and Uzbek countrymen could be proud of their performances. In effect, all of their concerts became a gift of love. The performers, still suffering from jet lag and culture shock, overcame muscle cramps and fatigue to sail onto stage with energy, enthusiasm, and confidence. Through their art, they communicated their profound love of their fascinating homeland and gratitude to be able to share their culture with American audiences.
The first performance was on July 28, at the University of Washington’s Meany Hall. With over a thousand people in attendance, the atmosphere was electric. The capable staff of Seattle’s Folklife Festival, veterans of many years of ethnic concerts, worked with Laurel Gray to meet the ensemble’s technical needs for lighting and sound. And to provide a cultural framework for the rarely experienced music and dance of Central Asia, Gray gave a well-attended preconcert lecture on continuity and change in twentieth century Uzbek dance.
The concert began with a greeting by the ensemble’s Artistic Director, Kadir Muminov, with Gray serving as interpreter. And from the first note played by the musicians, the audience was thrilled. When Kizlarkhon Dustmukhamedova walked onto stage for her first solo, she was greeted by applause from an audience well-acquainted with her artistry and her years of cultural exchange with Seattle. Group numbers featured the various regional styles of Central Asian dance, including Tadjik and Uighur numbers. The men excelled in vigorous, dynamic pieces — Katta Oyin and the Andishon horsemen’s dance. Lyrical yet athletic, the female performers were not to be outdone by the men. In Guldasta, a Bukharan dance choreographed by Isakhar Akilov, a quartet of women spun like tops, then executed a sudden and uniform drop to the floor, winning a rapturous response from the audience. Kadir Muminov revealed his skills as a mime, as well as his flawless technique in Chabon, a shepherd’s dance.