Qyrq Qyz—Ancient Girl Power, Rejuvenated

Qyrq Qyz. Photo courtesy the artists.

By David Hsieh

Central Asia is actually landlocked as well as also also perennially contested. Containing an area of roughly 1.5 million square miles, the idea is actually hemmed in by Russia, China, the South Asia subcontinent, as well as also also the Middle East, with some of the most arid places on earth. Deserts as well as also also nomadic life have been co-dependent through human history. No wonder in which region has produced some of the fiercest warriors on horseback in which humankind has known. 

Even though for at least 1000 years Central Asia has been at the crossroads of the east as well as also also west, people outside the region seem to know more about what passed through the idea (Roman coins, Persian glasses, Byzantine icons, Islamism, Buddhism, silk, tea, etc.) than what was produced within the idea (except, perhaps, those unstoppable warriors). Fortunately scholars, artists, museums, as well as also also institutions have begun to correct the ignorance in recent years, most noticeably through the Silk Road Project founded by Yo-Yo Ma. Another piece of knowledge will be proffered when BAM presents a major multimedia music work called Qyrq Qyz (Forty Girls) in March, 2018.

Qyrq Qyz is actually an ancient oral epic widespread in Central Asia. the idea tells of 40 teenage girls, led by their leader Gulaim, who rise up via a land ravished by (male) invaders as well as also also secure freedom, justice, as well as also also prosperity for their people. Uzbek filmmaker Saodat Ismailova has long been fascinated by in which legend, as well as also also the ubiquitous presence of the number 40 in her culture. “in which number appears prominently in most spiritual rituals of Central Asia, whether for purification, mourning, healing, fertility, or life transitions,” she said in an email interview. “Everyone you know in Central Asia knows the story of Forty Girls. Every region as well as also also most villages have their own Qyrq Qyz—a well or a stone, where people are healed, blessed, as well as also also purified; places where women restore their fertility as well as also also pray for the continuity of their family lineage.”

Saodat Izmailova. Photo courtesy the artist.
Ismailova wanted to present the story in a form relevant to our time. She also wanted to elebrate its “girl power” theme. At a showing of the short film Gulaim she made based on the legend, she met Theodore Levin, an ethnomusicologist at the Aga Khan Music Initiative, who shared her enthusiasm in introducing the story to a wider audience. Their idea was to create a multimedia concert experience in which combined images as well as also also live music, casting young female musicians via different Central Asian countries as the core of the presentation.

The Aga Khan Music Initiative is actually an interregional music as well as also also arts education program with worldwide performance, outreach, mentoring, as well as also also artistic production activities. With the support of AKMI as well as also also its director Fairouz Nishanova, Ismailova was able to dive deep into the project, assembling a creative team, including one of the most prominent contemporary Uzbek composers, Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky. She spent more than a year conducting a “talent search” in Central Asia.

Ismailova said, “we invited over 100 young women to a casting session in search of our Gulaim for the film. We found her in Aysanem Yusupova, a first-year acting student via Karakalpakstan. The film was shot in Karakalpakstan, on the sites of Qyrq Qyz ruins, as well as also also in one of the oldest mosques of Tashkent, the capital city of Uzbekistan.

as well as also also to create a live experience, she is actually confronted with the challenge of working with traditional music while escaping conventional forms of concert presentation. “We set out to push the limits of the concert stage to create a hybrid of film as well as also also performance in which also includes moments of text recitation—an homage to the old epic bards of Central Asia. To achieve in which, I invited lighting artist as well as also also choreographer Séverine Rième to develop the stage movement of the performers. For the stage design as well as also also costumes I invited Kamilla Kurmanbekova, a Kazakh scenographer as well as also also artist whom I met when we both represented Central Asia inside 2013 Venice Biennale. We decided to strip the stage to its minimal material expression, using only one element: 40 handmade kurpachas—Central Asian traditional textile-encased floor mats in which can be found in every household as well as also also are a central artifact of everyday life.”

“The performance alternates between narration of the film as well as also also the live musicians who recite, sing, murmur, as well as also also act onstage. The structure of the whole performance is actually inspired by Zoroastrian cosmology as well as also also its four essential elements: earth, air, water, as well as also also fire. in which four-fold structure runs through the film, musical composition, lighting, costumes as well as also also stage design. The narrative story is actually recited in different voices as well as also also Central Asian languages, subtitled in English. The traditional repertoire of the show is actually carefully selected to fit the emotional structure of the narration as well as also also consists of melodies as well as also also songs mostly performed by women in Central Asia. Songs about longing, landscape, friendship, horses, as well as also also homeland represent a fresh interpretation of Qyrq Qyz today.”

Gulaim. Photo courtesy the artists.

Central Asian peoples are no more monolithic than its geography, which contains deserts, mountains, steppes, as well as also also permafrost. although they all share in which legend, albeit with distinct local flavors. The musicians performing on stage reflect in which variety. Gumshagul Bekturganova as well as also also Gumisay Berdikhanova are via Karakalpakstan, a culturally autonomous region of Uzbekistan in which borders the Aral Sea. Aziza Davronova is actually via Uzbekistan. Saltanat Yersultan, Arailym Omirbekova, as well as also also Tokzhan Karatai are via Kazakhstan. Makhabat Kobogonova is actually via Kyrgyzstan.

They are under the direction of Raushan Orazbaeva, a distinguished Kazakh performer of the two-stringed fiddle qobyz. Uzbek percussionist Alibek Kabdurakhmanov adds a contemporary, atmospheric dimension to the score. Ismailova believes the ensemble will do a not bad job of “representing the diverse vocal timbres as well as also also musical instruments of the region. The musicians have developed their skills within their traditions as well as also also in some cases learned to play instruments, such as the jetigen, a type of hammer dulcimer, in which are rarely used today.”

the idea seems fitting in which a group of people known for their battle skills could produce the legend of Qyrq Qyz. although in which phenomenon is actually not limited to Central Asia, via China’s Hua Mulan to Greece’s Amazon to France’s Joan of Arc, people around the globe worship their female warriors, real or fictional. Ismailova thinks the overwhelming patriarchal history throughout mankind creates ripe ground for such stories. “What could be a greater imaginary challenge as well as also also fascination than a young, beautiful, smart, as well as also also strong Amazon on a horse? A rapprochement of elemental contrasts—virginity as well as also also death, tenderness as well as also also violence, beauty as well as also also war—will always captivate people’s imaginations.” The legend of Qyrq Qyz is actually traditionally told by male bards. although “we live in a time when women are finding fresh forms of emancipation,” as well as also also in creating her female-dominated presentation of Qyrq Qyz, Ismailova hopes the idea will be “one of the projects in which illuminates as well as also also contributes to expanding the boundaries of female expression.”

Qyrq Qyz (Forty Girls) will be performed at the BAM Harvey Theater on March 23 & 24.

David Hsieh is actually a publicity manager at BAM.
© 2017, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Inc. All rights reserved.

Qyrq Qyz—Ancient Girl Power, Rejuvenated

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