Even before the days of Alexander the Great merchants and travellers came from India and the East, trading rare and exotic goods, silk, spices, jade, silver, and semi-precious stones in return for European furs, and African gold and incense. Bukhara, Samarkand, Andizhan, Ferghana and Tashkent - All along the Silk Road, great walled cities of domes, and towers, waterways and gardens came alive in the desert lands of Uzbekistan. Every year in the Festival of Silk and Spices, the stories and legends of these old and modern cities are still remembered and celebrated - and the dancers bring joy and laughter in traditions known to be hundreds of years old - and believed to be even older.
Bukhara is one of the world's oldest continually inhabited cities and lies in the south of thr country near the border with Turkmenistan. The dances of Bukhara share affinities with those of Iran, Turkmenistan, and Rajastan, and are layered with complex moves, turns, and story-telling gestures. Performances often begin with the dancers expressing their moods, hopes, and fears, setting the scene, and explaining the characters portrayed in song. These expositions are made almost entirely with facial expressions, and movement of the hands, arms, and upper body and this introductory passage must be completed before the story of the dance can begin.
Credits: It was a real treat for Funoon audiences when San'at Mahmudova and Rashid Shadat brought these rarely-seen Usbek dances to the stage in Leeds and London. Photos: Leeds - Jo Hirons / London - Cecil
Kawliya is - or was - a town in southern Iraq famous for its musicians, and the dancers who adopted its name. These accomplished private and public entertainers, conjurers, acrobats, fortune-tellers, and cymbal-players were in origin nomadic Domari people from the east, like the Ghawazee of Egypt, and they travelled as they pleased from fair to festival before being obliged to live only in certain townships by ever-disapproving authorities.
The Kawliya dancers showed off their rebellious, untamed nature by dancing as if possessed by unknown spirits, skilfully striking at themselves with lethal daggers, and magically remaining uninjured, however fast the music. Of course, these days, machines play even faster than traditional drums - which is one of the reasons this ancient dance seems suddenly so modern.
Credits: The fabulous Joanne Miller brought a show-stopping Iraqi Kawliya to Funoon wa-Alwane from Leeds onwards, and as the tour progressed it just got better and better! Costume: Baladi Bazaar (Beverley Smith). Photos: Jo Hirons
Khorezm, (also written Khwarezm, Khorasam, Korezant, Xorazm, and Choresmia), is a large oasis region lying in the deserts south of the Aral Sea, and divided today between Uzbekistan, Turkmenistsn, and Kazakhstan. According to legend, its great city of Khiva was founded two-and-a-half millennia ago by Shem, the son of Noah, and the sweet-water well he found there is still to be seen. Throughout history, the remoteness of its important trade routes made the control of Khorezm a requisite of warring empires, and for nearly two centuries Khorezm ruled its own empire until being systematically dismantled by the successors of Genghis Khan. The region's character is defined by trade and the constant power struggle between near and far east, but its isolation has also brought a unique quality that is very evident in its music and dance.
Celebrated by the Khorezm people are their Bakshi poets, who combine poetry, song, and story-telling, and often perform in an adopted character such as the clown, the old man, the drunk, or the lover. It is not unusal to find female poets among the performers, and there are plenty of song-stories where quick-witted girls save the day, or outsmart their would-be lovers.
The dances of the Khorezm region of Uzbekistan are intricate and playful. They display all of the prized male and female virtues which may be desired in the heroes and heroines of stories - which include a keen intelligence, a kind heart, and a sense of fun. The dancer’s mood and attitude change constantly like bright sunshine spilling out between fast-moving clouds. Some say the dancers wear dozens of tiny bells to show off their mastery of aching stillness and exquisite movement; others liken dances to the battle of wills between bird and bird-catcher, or between flame and shadow, even between one breath and the next.
These are dances of joy and delight - and breath-taking skill and dedication to the arts - which is why Funoon was so pleased and proud to be able to share them with you.
Credits: It was a real treat for Funoon audiences when San'at Mahmudova and Rashid Shadat brought the rarely-seen Usbek dances to the stage in Leeds and London. Photos: Leeds - Jo Hirons / London - Cecil