Five recordings of the Sevan Armenian Dance Ensemble have been digitized and included in the Dance Heritage Video Archive at the USC Digital Library. The recordings include Armenian folk dance performances at the International Festival of Performing Arts, at the Music Center, at the Hollywood Bowl Museum and in Yerevan, Armenia in 1992 during the first anniversary celebration of post-Soviet independence.
The existence of these recordings was discovered during an interview for the USC Institute of Armenian Studies Displaced Persons Documentation Project with Angela Savoian, whose father, Jora Makarian, was a professionally trained dancer. He had been captured during World War II by the Germans and had spent the war years as a POW with the other displaced people, but even in those dark days had never ceased to perform and pass his skills to the youth. Later, after settling in Montebello, California, he performed during every cultural event and by forming a dance ensemble continued to educate generations for close to five decades. His wife, children and grandchildren danced in the Sevan Armenian Dance Ensemble.
Recorded on VHS tapes, the rare footage would eventually be lost, as film has a finite life span. The Institute’s Research Associate Dr. Lilit Keshishyan worked closely with Mrs. Savoian to gather information about the recordings and bring the videos to the USC Institute of Armenian Studies which saw that they would be restored, digitized, tagged and catalogued, so they can be enjoyed by anyone who is interested and most importantly can contribute to valuable and needed scholarship on the history of Armenian dance, as well as life in diaspora and the building of community.
In addition to the dance recordings, Angela Savoian’s interview will become part of the Institute’s larger Digital Diaspora Initiative, designed to collect, digitize, and make publicly accessible the history of the global Armenian experience. The Displaced Persons Documentation Project has been a subset of the Digital Diaspora Initiative. As part of this project, for the past two years, the Institute has been collecting oral histories, and archival materials about the Armenians who had been displaced across Europe during World War II and after the war found refuge in America. Jora Makarian was one of those people.
Savoian’s memories of her father and the dance performances are a valuable source of information, preserved as part of the Institute’s collection. The numerous photos and pamphlets given to the Institute have also been digitized in collaboration with the USC Digital Library and will be made available to scholars, researchers and students.
This news has highlighted once again the urgency to ask the important questions and collect the memories that will lead to such archival discoveries. Enter #MyArmenianStory, the latest initiative from the Institute, a do-it-yourself oral history project intended to encourage people to ask their elders or their peers to share their Armenian stories and through questions collect personal oral histories and even unearth boxes full of tapes and albums of yellowing photos which when digitized and presented together can tell the well rounded story of the Armenian experience.