With her “Dance with Armenian Letters” project in Berlin a few years ago, Babikyan approaches her return to the roots perhaps from the very beginning of the story, through the alphabet. Giving life to letters through bodily expression is a significant example in her unique artistic journey of exploration and teaching. Moreover, Babikyan does not keep this experience to herself but enables children and adult participants in the workshops to gain their own experiences, thereby involving them in this journey. At the core of this practice lies an artist’s awareness and sensitivity.
MERİ TEK DEMİR
How can a performing art be adapted into writing, and is it possible to teach it through writing even if it is adapted? An artist, educator and writer, Lerna Babikyan, who is a member of the Parrhesia Collective, provides an almost definitive answer to this question in her book “Creative Dance/ Embodied Pedagogy”, which serves as a guide for educators interested in the subject and indeed for anyone wishing to explore body awareness through dance. In the preface, where Babikyan shares the writing process during the quarantine days and presents the content, she discusses how the attitude that reduces dance and movement to merely a form of performance separates this art from its philosophy and history, and what this distinction means for cultural heritage. In fact, the transmission of cultural heritage between generations is one of the most important points that Lerna Babikyan emphasizes and that makes her creative dance journey unique.
In the first chapter of the book, while delving into the roots of creative dance, we are perhaps reminded of a truth that we have overlooked in the dominance of our contemporary performance understanding. Creative dance is not a discipline that emerged with today's understanding of modernity; rather, as emphasized by Babikyan, its roots can be traced back to the very beginning of human history. It is a form of expression that has evolved over centuries, initially used by the cave dwellers to reflect various emotions such as fear and excitement and to perform rituals. At its core, creative dance, which focuses on the physical expression of the human body, also reveals itself as a form of cultural expression, since, like all other forms of art, dance draws inspiration from various themes such as mythology, nature, and others, and takes shape within the environmental conditions specific to each society. On the other hand, although the discipline of creative dance has evolved over time through specific approaches and methods, the expression of each individual through creative dance, along with bodily and spiritual integrity it brings, ultimately transforms into a unique and original creation.
The methods presented in the following chapters of the book transform into a guide for those seeking to experience expression and bodily awareness through creative dance. In other words, the techniques in the book serve as a means for individuals to become aware of their physical and spiritual integrity and to reshape themselves through this awareness. At this point, both Lerna Babikyan’s extensive professional and personal experiences gained both nationally and internationally, and her positive and sharing approach, play an important role. Babikyan, who is a contemporary performance artist, as evidenced by her productions, also demonstrates her role as an educator and researcher. She is experienced in various theoretical and practical techniques related to dance and incorporates these into her teaching. However, as mentioned earlier, the reflection of her own cultural heritage and roots is equally significant in Babikyan’s art, and we come across these reflections in her works, as in her book.
During the “Creative Dance as a Practice of Mental and Physical Liberation and Equality” webinar held on September 14, 2023 as part of the Parrhesia Collective webinars, Lerna Babikyan discusses the progression of her own work, and with enthusiasm, she refers to Gomidas Vartabed, whom she also addresses in her book. As mentioned in the book, in 1912 Gomidas Vartabed delivered a speech to the teachers of Esayan High School on student-centered music and dance education. This information not only excited Babikyan but also brought her a sense of sorrow, as she states; “It was 1912, the place was Esayan School in Taksim… I was very excited when I read about this, in a way, I was surprised, and at the same time, I felt sad. The loss of such a treasure… To have all this consciousness in these lands, and for us to try to retell it as if it had never happened, as if it had never been lived, more than a century later, this really affected me.” Of course, the reflections of cultural roots that we find in Lerna Babikyan’s works are not only limited to the example of Gomidas Vartabed included in her book.
With her “Dance with Armenian Letters” project in Berlin a few years ago, Babikyan approaches her return to the roots perhaps from the very beginning of the story, through the alphabet. Giving life to letters through bodily expression is a significant example in her unique artistic journey of exploration and teaching. Moreover, Babikyan does not keep this experience to herself but enables children and adult participants in the workshops to gain their own experiences, thereby involving them in this journey. At the core of this practice lies an artist’s awareness and sensitivity. Presenting what exists and what has been forgotten, the existence of her roots to the audience, listener, and reader through the artist’s own interpretation is highly valuable and transforms and enriches the artist. Babikyan realizes her return to her roots by delving into the world of letters, which is a rather abstract world, and enables us to capture our own experiences through these letters with today’s interpretation. While it is unnecessary to discuss the importance of language in cultural heritage, at an interdisciplinary level, she demonstrates a revival of something that once deemed to be disappearing, by using intertwined arts, not only in terms of mental but this time with bodily and spiritual integrity. In this regard, it would not be wrong to say that Lerna Babikyan is a versatile artist who does not hesitate to share her art, touch lives, and break certain prejudices, as much as she is in her performing art. Therefore, as I conclude this article, I also repeat Anne Green Gilbert’s wishes in the foreword of the book. I hope that Babikyan’s book will be translated into other languages and her wealth of knowledge will serve as a guide to people from various cultures.