Author: Nigar ALIYEVA
Due to the pandemic and lockdown restrictions, children and youth dance groups have found themselves in a difficult situation. Instructors and children tried to ‘survive’ using online video communication and studying at home, but... Dancers need space, where any movement must be controlled to be as smooth as possible. A professional dancer, like an athlete, must be in good physical shape, because the body is his instrument. How do our famous children dance groups, which represent Azerbaijan at various international events, cope with the new situation?! With our guests – leaders and instructors of such groups – we talk about creativity in isolation and their plans for the current year.
The ensemble was created in March 1996, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. They gave the first concert a year after the inception, with the first tour in Kharkov (Ukraine) back in 1998. Asiman consists of children of different age groups, with almost 120 children in good old times. Artists of the older group, already professionals, started their career in Asiman in the preschool age.
So far, Asiman has given 20 solo concerts at the Heydar Aliyev Palace. There are at least 15 diverse types of dances (modern choreography, dances of the peoples of the world), Caucasian and Azerbaijani dances, etc.) in the repertoire of the ensemble. But it is updated annually. The founders of the ensemble are Vahid SALIMOV, director and instructor for boys, and Rasita ALIYEVA, artistic director and instructor for girls.
The ensemble has travelled almost the whole world. Having participated in international competitions and festivals since 1998, the team has repeatedly won prizes. The extensive geography of trips included tours in the cities of Turkey, the Grand Prix of the Black Sea festival in Bulgaria, tours in Greece (first place), in Spain (second place), a diploma of an Italian festival, performances in Austria, Egypt, Russia, and Ukraine. Since 2016, the ensemble has taken part in republican competitions held by the Azerbaijan Dance Association, winning the Grand Prix in each of them. Also, the ensemble is a regular of the New Year and Novruz Bayram performances held on the main stage of Baku.
“Rasita-khanim, when did you have to suspend the rehearsals of the ensemble?”
“At the beginning of March 2020 when the secondary schools closed.”
“What plans and projects did you have to cancel due to the lockdown?”
“We had big plans for the second half of 2020: in addition to being the leaders of the ensemble, we are also the organizers of the international festival KhazarFolk. The first festival, which took place in 2019 and was held at the Heydar Aliyev Palace, was very successful. We had attendants from Russia, Georgia, Latvia, Bulgaria and other countries. The prestigious jury of the competition consisted of the representatives from different countries of the world. The Grand Prix of the festival was awarded to the senior group of our ensemble for the Azerbaijan Suite dance by Uzeyir Hajibeyov. In June 2020, the festival was supposed to take place on an even larger scale, with a large number of teams and guests willing to take part in the event. In March, we traditionally prepared for the celebration of Novruz Bayram, and in April our team gathered in Antalya (Turkey) to participate in the international 23 Nisan Festival. But the biggest hit was the suspension of our KhazarFolk festival, which was supposed to have more than 500 attendants, including four ensembles from Bashkortostan, ensembles from the Baltic countries, Russia and Bulgaria. Our children are used to participate in competitions, performing on stage. And suddenly it was all over!
“Suspension of rehearsals and cancelling the performances caused stress for the children. Of course, we tried to study remotely to keep them fit. But online classes in schools, which often do not match our rehearsal schedule, as well as different schedules led to a lack of systematic classes. Many children simply did not have the opportunity to study remotely at home due to the lack of a computer, the Internet, and the necessary conditions.”
“How did other dance groups survive the lockdown? Do you have any information?”
“We all have a similar situation. Children and instructors from other teams experienced exactly the same psychological stress: uncertainty is the biggest problem scaring us, from the information about the virus itself to inability to do what you love, to do your favourite job in the morning, to actively engage in the production of new dances. Many bands gathered in April in Turkey for an international festival, planning to take part in the KhazarFolk, but everything failed. It is also worth mentioning the financial problems that we faced during the lockdown.”
“Have you tried to practice outdoors?”
“We tried to do in the parks and other open areas. But the classes were attended by literally a handful of children. Many parents were afraid to let their children go because of the virus. That’s why we worked for a couple of months, then, when the weather worsened, we had to stop classes completely. We are looking forward to the opening of the same gyms to return our children to the rhythm they once used to live in.”
“What will be the implication of such a long break on young artists?”
“I cannot say anything special, as the problem has many factors, but one thing I know for sure: it is very difficult to recover. It depends on the individuality of each artist: for someone 3-4 months of hard work is enough, yet for others it may take half a year, because we have a complex program. For example, the middle age group has the most difficult level of performance, which requires classic warmups and good physical shape. It is also possible that for some it will remain an irreparable loss. There is also a psychological factor. Many children are simply lazy, exhausted, and not interested in doing what they devoted time to before the lockdown. Perhaps during this long pause they have become interested in something else. Concerts, competitions, rehearsals kept the children in good tension, when they could get experience using emotions, and they had little free time. And suddenly it was all over. Therefore, I would not be surprised if 30% of the children who were engaged in dancing, gymnastics, and other sports simply do not return to their studios and sections. But I remain an optimist, and I believe that we will be able to reassemble our team, remember our old compositions and produce new dances.”
“What are your plans for the team this year?”
“This year our ensemble turns 25 years old. We have great plans indeed. Even now, we hope that the halls will open in the spring, and in three months we will be able to return to our former shape, restore our ‘supplies’. We have big creative ideas, but all this depends on rehearsals, which are very limited now. We often communicate with colleagues from other countries. They have a similar situation, better or worse, but they all dream of coming to Baku for our anniversary, for our KhazarFolk 2021 festival. We believe that we will be able to make our plans a reality. Let us hope for the best!”
The ensemble belongs the Centre for Children and Youth Creativity No. 5 under the Ministry of Education of Azerbaijan. According to instructors, People's Artist of Azerbaijan Jamila Bayramova, Natavan Musayeva and Natella Hasanova, the ensemble was founded in 2005.
“What was the life of Zirvə before the lockdown? How did you practice during the period of isolation?”
“As you know, our team is many years old. During this time, our children have performed a lot, participated in various competitions both in the republic and abroad: in Georgia, Turkey, Russia and other countries. The ensemble constantly won prizes. Classes stopped at the beginning of March, although we were actively preparing for the opening of our centre after a major overhaul. Since the team belongs to the Ministry of Education, we were strictly forbidden to work with children in the open air until the ministry instructed us to do so. Even though schools started work in September last year, creativity centres for children were closed, waiting for the recovery of the situation after the pandemic. With the start of the Patriotic War in September, we could not do any rehearsals. And then the pandemic began to gain momentum, so classes did not resume.”
“Tell us about the plans you had to cancel due to the pandemic.”
“We had many plans. In April we were supposed to take part at the international festival in Antalya – 23 Nisan. The problem is that due to a long pause, our senior group made up of high school students, will probably not return to the ensemble. This is understandable, as they graduate from school and prepare for college. But we hope that the middle group, at least 90% of the team, will continue to train in the ensemble. We will have to recruit more students for all age groups.
“Morally and psychologically, the lockdown has a very strong hit on children, especially on creative ones. They are gaining weight, losing their shape, it's sad. We continued to work online, although it is incredibly difficult for dancers, as they need space, freedom of movement, but some children do not have such conditions. Therefore, returning to the usual form will be difficult. Nevertheless, children are looking forward to returning to the team. Last year we took part in several online events and took awards. Our student Medina Samedova was the 3rd among 250 participants at the international festival Üç Alov. Another member from the older group, Sama Huseynzade, was the first in the republican online competition.
Emil Panahov, a teacher of the Gara Garayev School of Arts, said that Alov is 8 years old. The team immediately began to take part in competitions, festivals, and state events. Children have repeatedly become champions, winners of prizes in various nominations of the Caucasus Cup, in Azerbaijan and beyond. The team has travelled a lot, including trips to the CIS countries and far abroad. But in March, the classes had to be stopped. The events related to the celebration of the Novruz Bayrami had to be cancelled. According to Panahov, they will have to create the ensemble anew. In terms of fitness, it's not so bad. The team, if possible, keeps fit, does not work out in the open air, but continues rehearsals via video communication. By the way, the guys from Alov took part in online contests. For example, at the international festival-competition of youth creativity Thank You-2020 held in Moscow, Russia, Amal Akhmadulin took first place with his solo dance. Further, at the Holy Land festival in Israel, Amal Akhmadulin and Eliana Panahova were recognized as the best duo of the competition in the nomination Folk Dance Styling. During the war, the ensemble starred in small videos dedicated to the brilliant victory of Azerbaijan. In addition, they participated as dancers in small creative projects. The only thing that is depressing is the panic over the pandemic, as parents are afraid of mass rehearsals. Children are bored and eagerly await resumption of classes.