an interactive multidisciplinary art & performance project inspired by Armen Ohanian
Garo has been researching Armen Ohanian, an enigmatic Armenian performer and survivor of the early 20th century anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku. Grappling with the discrepancies between Ohanian’s biography and memoirs, they are forced to confront memories from the past, unraveling experiences around gender, sexuality, ethnicity, family, and the role of the artist. An immersive theatre experience featuring a blend of monologue, traditional Armenian dance, erotic performance and live music, Dear Armen weaves together the voices and struggles of three generations of women, queer and gender nonconforming Armenians.
Dear Armen was initially conceived during a three-week artist residency in September 2013 at the Abrahamian Arts Centre in Yerevan, Armenia. Since its inception, the project transformed from interactive performance, to immersive-media installation, to short film. As part of the project’s lifespan, Dear Armen toured to major North American cities between 2014-2016 (including New York, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and Vancouver); held two residency/creation periods in Yerevan, Armenia (2013 & 2015); and the short film was an official selection at multiple festivals including Chicago Film Festival and Seattle Queer Film Festival.
Directed by Anoushka Ratnarajah & featuring music by Haig Ashod Beylerian.
An interactive-theatre experience featuring a blend of monologue, traditional Armenian dance, erotic performance and live music, Dear Armen weaves together the voices and struggles of three generations of women and gender nonconforming Armenians. Unveiling fragmented legacies of genocide and displacement, the narrative kaleidoscopes stories that highlight the complexities of survival.
Workshop: Our Nene’s Stories
An ancestral storytelling workshop for those of us who crave to connect to the stories of the people we come from. It is for those of us that have access to some of those stories; for those of us that don’t; for those of us who live in diasporic communities and question our relationship to our ancestors and homelands. A workshop for all of us who believe that storytelling and art can be transformative tools used towards bridging the longing in our hearts and the political realities that have given cause to these longings.
A site-specific performance installation created and presented at the Abrahamian Art Centre in Armenia in 2015. Building on the stage production of Dear Armen, we developed an interdisciplinary storyworld that is witnessed and documented by audience/participant; and where they can interact with its characters, textures, and multi-stranded narrative.
Reeling Chicago LGBTQ & International Film Festival (Sept. 2016)
Moving the (b)order – Queering Yerevan Happening & Film Festival (October 2016)
True Believers: A Night of Lady-Directed Shorts from Portland (December 2016)
TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival (September 2017)
While touring with the theatrical production of Dear Armen, we invited local performers, writers & activists to participate in the show by presenting a piece inspired by the themes of the play. After our second tour, we assembled a collection of these pieces into a zine.
REVIEWS & TESTIMONIALS
“…there’s a fearlessness to the performance and its examination of the cultural and corporeal aspects of gender as a continuum”
– Aram Kouyoumdjian
(Winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting “The Farewells” & directing “Three Hotels”)
“The creators of the piece are searching for answers and bring the audience into that process. This is a performance, but in addition to being a captivating one, it’s also a collaborative one”
– Jason McLean
(co-founder, Forget-the-Box, Montreal)
“…even the relationship between audience members and performers was queered… I was also reminded of how my body’s movements match that of my mother’s, how histories of genocide/displacement and impending rage/trauma/pain breathe from our bones through our skin”
– Kim Villagante
“A marvelous work of staged performance. Smooth, intense, wise, poetic and above all, non-pretentious – all so elegant and profound. An unforgettable work indeed”
– Anahid Keshishian
(UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures)
“Boudakian and Abrahamian confront Armen and her history in a way that is equally informed and confounded by the enigmatic dancer from Shamakha. Identity, loss, and a people’s trauma that seems to transcend borders and generations carries the play to a powerful climax…”
– Mohamed Chakmakchi
“…an insightful coming-of-age story that weaves together complex narratives about ethnicity, gender, family, and survival…”
– Gillian Edevane
“…begins to open up conversation about the dismissal of Armenian women’s experiences through their own silence; an ingrained refusal to share that which is foreign to our Garo”
– Jen Scholten
“Dear Armen is confrontational because it advances a threatened voice; yet, the voice is threatening. It demands to be heard. Esoteric on various levels, Dear Armen motivates viewers/participants to peel away layers and value nuance”
– Jacklyn Janeksela
Special thanks to the Canada Arts Council, the BC Arts Council, and the province of British Columbia for supporting this project