Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The Swan Bride / Part 2 - Lezginka



In my piece about Sochi
I wrote about my first impressions of Caucasian Dance Traditions or Lezginka as it is commonly called.  Together with the warmth of Diana and Saida's hospitality, it was Lezginka that made us want to visit their country, so before I tell you the story of The Dance of the Swan Bride I want to tell you something more about Lezginka.

Lezginka is part of a broad culture that is only loosely connected to Derbent where the Lezgins live.  The Lezgins are but one people in a region that is brim full of ethnic diversity, languages and dance forms.  Across on the other side (West) of the Caucasus are the Circassians (Adyghes, Cherkess, Kabardins, Shapsugs), and to the South West are the Ossetians and Georgians.  In the Ukraine the Cossacks have similar dances that they call Hopek.

I drew this Circassian dancer from the Nalmes Dance Company when they were performing at the Olympic games in Sochi.  She wears a gilded crown and long dress with trailing sleeves. When she moves she floats across the stage using rapid foot movements that are hidden behind the folds of her dress. 


I could have drawn her making slow swan like movements with undulating arms, because all her emotions are expressed through the arms.  In contrast the men jump and stomp around the stage like strutting stags.  Here is a video from the Adyghian Dance Company (Nalmes).


  This Dancer, who is from Dagestan, dances in a similar way to the Circassians.


Although they come from opposite sides of the Caucasus mountain range they both have long platted hair and similar movements.  This fashion for platted hair is very old and universal across the region; in the museum of  art in Makhachkala (capital of Dagestan) I saw a 7th century Christian broach depicting a ladies face with similar plats.

Here is a video from the Dagestan  Dance Company



This Lezgin dancer is in Pink.  The lowland Lezgins and Taberasans live near Derbent.  The dance finishes with all the girls collectively arranging their bodies to become an opening flower.


I have yet to identify which group this lovely Dagestani Dancer represents.

Some Dagestan dancers wear pantaloons and expression themselves through fast footwork which is a bit like the steps in Irish Riverdance.  This Avar girl from Northern Dagestan comes from culture furthest from Derbent who were the last to convert to Islam. Her costume includes references to the Sun and other pagan motives.


The male dancing is super-active, macho, and elegant.  In western ballet it is the women who dance on point, in the Caucasus it is the men.  This dancer is finishing his visual display on point on top of two drums.  And WOW, does it work?!


The men are very athletic, often jumping and spinning in the air, and landing on their knees


They like playing with sharp knives that stick in the floor when they are dropped or thrown across stage.


Often their dancing is tongue-in-cheek, and comic.  They join their bodies to make animals that walk across the stage.


and play instruments


But when a woman is on stage with them they strut like Eagles.  The men are the Eagles, and the women are Swans.  We have reached the essence Lezginka; Eagles and Swans..



Every republic across the Caucuses has their own dance company where the dance traditions are preserved, the Cucasian people love dancing and take their cultural heritage very seriously. In Makhachikala, the capital of Dagestan, each ethnic group has its own theatre.  This is the entrance to the theatre belonging to the Kumyk peoples.


The colourful dance and costumes of Caucasians are a refreshing change to the stereotype of Islamic culture that we learn about from the media.  As we will see dancing is central to their lives and approach to Islam, and in the end my story about The Dance of the Swan Bride tells it all.


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