MYSTICAL AND LYRICAL: ARMENIAN ARTIST ONIK SAHAKIAN

GAYANE ABRAHAMYAN

Excerpt from the article published in “Armenia Now” that covered Sahakian’s exhibition in his motherland, at the at the Gevorgyan Gallery, Yerevan

The world’s most famous surrealist once called Iranian- Armenian artist Onik Sahakian the Daliest man I know. (…) Sahakian has had 52 solo exhibitions, in such places as the Museum of World Culture at Gotheborg, the Grand Palais in Paris, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow, and the Contemporary Art Museum in Tehran, his home.

`I have a strange feeling. I have always identified myself as an American, and only here, in Armenia, I understood I belong to this land, as if I have lived especially here in my
past life,’ Sahakian told ArmeniaNow.

His has been a life immersed in art, starting from age seven, when he became acquainted with Indian dance, and began staging his own performances. He later studied at the Yelena Avetisian School of Choreography, while also studying painting (Persian miniatures) at the Tehran Institute of Fine Arts.

In 1956, and by then a skilled ballet dancer, Sahakian moved to the United States, where he appeared in more than 100 dance performances over 10 years.

In 1958, he met Dali. Sahakian’s nephew was a hairdresser to Iranian Queen Farah, and to another famous client . . . The nephew introduced Sahakian to a certain client who fancied having enormous rollers in his hair, Salvador Dali. That day was the beginning of a unique friendship that was to last 20 years. `The Spaniard cast a spell upon me so that I began painting again,’ Sahakian says. `A moment came when painting became my way of self-expression. A dancer’s life is as short as that of a butterfly. Art is a means of self- expression to me. After dance, painting became the world where I be- come candid and express myself.’

Over the years Sahakian assisted Dali with his collages, paintings and sculptures. He also designed exquisite jewelry for Dali and his wife. Then he moved to New York City, where he set up a consulting agency for art and jewelry design, known as `Onik Design Ltd’. (He now lives in New York and Lisbon.) Dali also once told Sahakian: `You are crazy; but a good kind of crazy’. The super surrealist’s `crazy’ friend says his life has been one of a constant search for meaning. His search through art took him from miniatures to Dutch classics into impressionism.

Of course he could not escape the influence of the powerful surrealist, but Sahakian soon found his own style and means of expression. `My works are mystical and lyrical, Dali’s are aggressive and shocking, if critics compare us, they must have never known him,’ says Sahakian. `I do not aim at shocking people with my art. Life is cruel by itself; on the contrary art should embrace people’s hearts with quietness and harmony.’

In his book `Prodigy’ Explanation’ , art critic Ghoncheh Tazmini writes that Sahakian
`infuses in the disjuncture of the surrealist imagination elements of hope, faith and comfort. Onik’s talent lies in his ability to reconcile two disparate orientations bringing to his audience a sense of harmony and equilibrium.’

The painter’s series of faceless Madonnas puts the revered figure in gorgeous garments with an empty oval instead of the face that allows people, the artist says, to feel the spiritual essence, to ascend from the material and the body and see not beautiful eyes, nose or mouth, but an unearthly spirit.

`And who knows how Madonna’s or Christ’s faces looked? For every man the face of the Lord is inside himself, within the limits of his conscience,’ says the artist. Stairs are also a frequently repeating theme in Sahakian’s paintings – Place of Silence, Enigma. Stairs going up to the endless sky symbolize each step of the man, every single kind thing done that step by step lead to cosmic eternity and quietness. `In arts, and especially in painting, the most important thing is the positive energy the art should ex- press,’ Sahakian says. `I get hundreds of letters from different people mostly saying their souls calm down in front of my paintings. I think this is a big achievement.”

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ABRIGDED HISTORY OF RAZVAN MAZILU – ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT ROMANIAN CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS

Razvan Mazilu was born on the 21st of June 1974, in Bucharest. He began to study dance at the age of three. Even though at the beginning everything seemed just a game, the subsequent trace of the studies follows its natural course: he graduates the “Floria Capsali” Ballet Highschool from Bucharest (1992) and the “I.L. Caragiale” University of Theatrical and Cinematographic Art, the choreographic creation section (1996). At the same time he attends preparing courses and work-shops taught by the choreographers Josef Nadj, Christine Bastin, Dominique Bagouet, Gigi Caciuleanu, Rusell Maliphant.

Razvan Mazilu & Monica Petrica, foto by Egyed Ufo Zoltan

Razvan Mazilu & Monica Petrica, foto by Egyed Ufo Zoltan

As early as the years of highschool, he became a soloist of the “Contemp” Contemporary Dance Company, first at the National Romanian Opera House, then at the Jewish State Theatre.

Since 1993 he has been the master of his artistic destiny, becoming a free-lancer, and he continued his career in a double hypostasis: that of an interpret and that of a creator.
Razvan Mazilu’s debut in choreography is marked in a spectacular manner by a few prizes obtained at the the national dance festivals: The Special Prize of the the jury for choreographic debut at the “Eurodans” International Festival from Iasi, The First Prize at the “Mihail Jora” National Festival, Bucharest and The Prize for exceptional choreographic debut awarded by the Union of the Composers, Choreographers and Musical Critics of Romania.

In 1994, his debut plays became television productions in the “Transfiguring” recital produced by TVR1, Romania’s main television channel. In

1995, while still being a student, Razvan staged at the National Theatre of Bucharest the first play fully belonging to him: “The Lady of the Camelias” . This production of theatre and dance, considered by the specialized critics a crossroads one, also meant the acquaintance with the actress Maia Morgenstern.

Further on, in 1995, the director Andrei Serban invited him – as a choreographer – in the team which was staging “Oedipe” by George Enescu at the National Romanian Opera House.

Razvan Mazilu continued his quests in the area of theatre – dance: “Talk to Me like the Rain and Let Me Listen to You” after Tennessee Williams, it was a new show and a first contact with the Odeon Theatre of Bucharest (1996).

In the same year, Razvan took part in the International Ballet Contest from Paris, France, where Mrs. Bernadette Chirac handed him The Prize for Interpretation of the National Opera House of Paris in a ceremony kept at the E l i s é e Palace .

In 1997, Razvan Mazilu was the protagonist of the first one-man-show of a Romanian dancer, “Playing Shakespeare”, in the choreography of Ioan Tugearu, played on the stage of the National Theatre of Bucharest.

Since 1998, he has begun a long lasting collaboration with the National Romanian Opera House as a g u e s t – s t a r i n “ A n n a K a r e n i n a ” ( 1 9 9 8 ) , “ J a p a n e s e Engravings” (2000), “Red and Black” (2001) where he had the main part, that of Julien Sorel.

An innovative challenge it the collaboration with the Romanian Opera House of Timisoara, which, in 1999 invited him to stage a new modern version of the ballet “Coppelia” by Leo Delibes.

One year later, Razvan Mazilu met again with the Odeon Theatre, as an artistic counselor-choreographer. In 2001, he directed a new show of theatre and dance, “The Blue Angel”, a personal version of the novel “Professor Unrat” by Heinrich Mann, and then he launched “Dance at Odeon”, a programme meant to promote the Romanian contemporary dance. As part of these productions, the young choreographers Claudia Martins and Rafael Carrico created “Bolero. I Lost the King”, played on Ravel’s famous music, especially for the personality of the dancer Razvan Mazilu.

Between 2003-2004, he came back as a guest star on the stage of the Opera of Bucharest for “The House of Bernarda Alba”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Mephistopheles”.

In 2004, at the Odeon, it is staged the play “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde, in which Razvan Mazilu – performer of the main part and choreographer – appears in the stage direction of Dragos Galgotiu, one of the most important Romanian directors.

In January 2004, he was awarded by the president of Romania, Ion Iliescu, the medal The Cultural Order in rank of a Knight “for the whole activity and for the abnegation and the performing talent used in the service of the scenic art”.

The theatrical season 2004-2005 is extremely fortunate, including exceptional professional experiences: the DILOS Theatre of Athens, managed by Dimitra Hatoupi – one of the most important actresses of Greece – invited Razvan Mazilu to direct the musical “Marlene” by Pam Gems.

The season 2005-2006 brings Razvan Mazilu new challenges, building on his popularity and his status as a complex artist. He achieves a spectacular come- back on the stage of the National Opera House in Bucharest, with “Simphonie Fantastique”, a show of choreographic theatre signed by Gigi Caciuleanu, on the famous score of Hector Berlioz. At the same time, at the Odeon Theatre, the dance adventure goes on with an innovative show mixing contemporary ballet and Argentine tango.

“Un Tango Más” is a show signed by Razvan Mazilu, supported by director Alexandru Dabija. Faithful to his belief that an artist needs to constantly surprise audience and reinvent himself, Razvan Mazilu also tackles a totally different genre: cabaret. As the protagonist of the one-man- show “Sell Me!”, Razvan Mazilu dances in the unconventional space of an underground club.

The season 2006 – 2007 saw another fresh and contemporary approach to classics – the highly praised dance show BLOCK BACH, an urban saga exclusively on sacred music by Bach. Along with Razvan Mazilu, the reputed Israeli artist Amir Kolben was invited to complete the choreography of the show.

Another novelty of the season was the launch of DANCE ENERGY, international social responsibility project, initiated and coordinated by Razvan , in the benefit of the choreography scools in Romania. The first show of this project, ‘Razvan Mazilu and Friends’, gathered on the stage of the National Opera House in Bucharest major international and Romanian artists including dancers Talia Paz, Rafael Carrico, Claudia Martins, Adrian Stoian, Monica Petrica, actress Maia Morgenstern, soprano Felicia Filip, TV star Mihaela Radulescu and musicians Johnny Raducanu and A.G. Weinberger. The funds raised through this extraordinary charity show have been donated to the ‘Floria Capsali’ choreography high-school in Bucharest.

Through all his career, Razvan Mazilu has had collaborations with the choreographers Amir Kolben, Marc Bogaerts, Claudia Martins and Rafael Carrico, Gigi Caciuleanu, Ioan Tugearu, Florin Fieroiu, Alexa Mezincescu, Miriam Raducanu, Adina Cezar, Liliana Iorgulescu, with the theatre and opera directors Alexandru Dabija, Dragos Galgotiu, Andrei Serban, Catalina Buzoianu, Cornel Todea, Petrika Ionescu, Ana Margineanu, Anda Tabacaru-Hogea, with the set-designers Doina Levintza, Adriana Grad, Andrei Both, Dragos Buhagiar, Irina Solomon.

Tours in: Japan, Germany, Italy, France, Denmark, Greece, Switzerland, Israel, Russia, Egypt, Hungary, Slovakia.

INTERVIEW WITH RAZVAN MAZILU by Eva Defeses

“ I strongly believe in the versatility of the artist, it is a “must” in contemporary art “

Razvan Mazilu, foto by Egyed Ufo Zoltan

Razvan Mazilu, foto by Egyed Ufo Zoltan

Eva Defeses: Although many critics have particularly underlined the perfect union between dance and theatre in the show Dorian Gray, if we take as a starting point the words of the director Dra- gos Galgotiu, who mentioned in an interview the connection between the world created by the fusion of these two art forms with the “visions of Caspar David Friedrich, the painter of philosophers”, we cannot help but noticing a way of construction similar to the act of painting. It is more than a simple logical deduction generated by the title of Oscar Wilde’s novel, your dancing moves on stage appear, when taken one by one, drawing studies, put to- gether by rhythm. Did painting play a part when you created the choreography for the show based upon the novel ”The Picture of Dorian Gray”, at the Odeon Theatre in Bucharest?

Razvan Mazilu: It is a very interesting question. I would like to say that painting is another passion of mine; maybe if I had not embraced the dancing, I would have painted. In a show like Dorian Gray, the pictorial side plays an important part, because it materializes on stage the epoch evoked by Oscar Wilde’s novel, as defined by the obsession for beauty, by the superiority of art over life itself. From this point of view, it was of utmost importance that all the elements of this show – from scenography and costumes to the harmony and gracefulness of the moves – should have a common element: an exacerbated aestheticism – taken to the extreme, I would say.

Eva Defeses: Shows in night clubs (Sell me!), sacred music (Block Bach), Argentine Tango (Un Tango Más), Shakespeare (a one-man dance show, impersonating four major Shakespearean characters in a one-hour performance), etc. are only a few of your projects which at first glance seem contradictory, comprising a great vari- ety of themes and styles. Yet your dancing puts them all together gracefully. What is the style that mostly attracts you?

Razvan Mazilu: At 14 years’ old, I discovered the contemporary dance. I didn’t know anything about it, but I had the revelation of the fact that I would perform contemporary dance and not classical ballet. I have chosen contemporary dance not because I couldn’t face up the demands of the classical ballet as many dancers do today. To me, dancing, as I understand it, is really an existential need, it is the way I express myself best. I like to experiment many genres, from contemporary to cabaret, to theatre-dance. I love the musicals, and I want to direct such shows. So, I would rather define my style as eclectic.

Eva Defeses: What does the theatre bring into this? Is there some- thing that cannot be expressed by dance and the theatre supplies it?

Razvan Mazilu: The very way that I dance is marked by theatricality; I tend to run away from the abstract. Moreover, I strongly believe in the versatility of the artist, it is a “must” in contemporary art. I became a director – choreographer at a very early age … at
20. Maybe it happened this way out of lack of self-conscience, or out of the strong need to demonstrate that I had something to say. Surely, at first, people look at you like you were a curiosity of nature, a freak; there is the prejudice that dancing is something frivolous, so how could I, a mere dancer, put together shows of theatre – dance? I held one man shows, but I also collaborated with important directors, whenever I received attractive proposals. I adore alternating between being a dancer and a creator of shows, and it seems to be very provocative to me.

Eva Defeses: Is there a book that has left a mark on you and which you would like to put on stage?

Razvan Mazilu: I would like to put together a show based on Death in Venice for instance, as it is a novel on the condition of the artist, about the quest for an ideal, at all costs…

Eva Defeses: You have been dancing since 3 years’ old. Who is the person who mostly stood by you on your journey on this “path” (as I know you don’t like the word “career”)?

Razvan Mazilu: It gives me a great deal of pleasure to underline whenever someone asks me this question, the important support I have received from my family, who knew how to cultivate, in an era that seemed completely fade, lacking perspectives of any kind, feelings such as beauty and sensibility. My parents and my sister understood my calling and helped me a lot. It is so important to be understood, to have someone there for you.

Eva Defeses: What is your relation with the actors you work with? Do you influence each other? For instance, in 1995, when you worked with Maia Morgenstern in “The Lady of the Camelias” you have managed to turn this working experience into a beautiful, lasting friendship…(This was the first dance-theatre show, ever produced in Romania)

Razvan Mazilu: My stage partners, actors or dancers, are of extreme importance to the show. I need to work with artists who complement me, whom I can communicate perfectly with, on stage, above any words. This happened with Maia, and I really managed to work greatly with her. Moreover, my encounter with her granted me cour- age. I was a student, at the beginning of the journey; she was already a famous actress. The fact that she put so much trust in me, that she took a great risk by joining me in “different” kind of shows, which had never been made before, meant so much to me. I would like to thank her again for that.

Eva Defeses: You have stated that you cannot dissociate Mazilu – the artist from Mazilu – the man. What has drawn you to Oscar Wilde’s character, so that we may know something more about the man, without forgetting the artist?

Razvan Mazilu: I grew up in a block of flats, in a neighbourhood of Bucharest, during communism. I had a happy childhood thanks to my family, but we all know what sad times those were. Don’t you think that dandyism, as represented by Dorian Gray, can turn into a landmark for a teenager yearning to live in another world, among beautiful things and experiencing special moments? I read The Portrait of Dorian Gray and it impressed me, than Craii de Curtea-Veche by Mateiu Caragiale. All these readings helped me escape from the daily reality, encouraged me to dream beautiful dreams. And I was hoping, in secret, to embody the character of Dorian Gray, on stage, a dream which actually fulfilled itself, almost 4 years ago.

Eva Defeses: Do you find yourself seduced more often by characters similar to yourself, or, on the contrary, is it more fascinating to in- terpret a character that you have nothing in common with?

Razvan Mazilu: I am crazy about constructing characters; it is as simple as that. The more difficult they are, the more provocative it is. Generally speaking, each character gives me the opportunity of discovering and re-discovering myself, of finding unexploited resources. To embody a character, to bring his destiny onto stage, to live through that character experiences that I don’t usually have in my daily life – this is what fascinates me.

Eva Defeses: What are your thoughts when you stand in front of the applauding audience for minutes and the public won’t let you go?

Razvan Mazilu: It is a very strange feeling, a feeling of grace, I’d say; I can’t say that I think at something in particular. I just enjoy the feeling that the audience and I communicate with each other, that we share a connection.

Eva Defeses: What question would you mostly like to be asked and nobody has asked it yet in an interview?

Razvan Mazilu: Difficult question. Maybe it’s precisely this question… But I am still looking forward to be surprised, with each interview. For instance, nobody has ever asked me: “Have you ever danced in a dream?” The answer would be: “Yes. Many times. Sometimes, I have the feeling I have never woken up.”

Eva Defeses: Dear Mr. Mazilu, it has been a pleasure and an hon- our to talk to you. Thank you for your time.

NIRAM ART wishes to thank Mr. Razvan Mazilu and Mrs. Toni Cojanu for their time and support and for providing the photographies that beautifully illustrate these pages.