The First 30 Years
By Dick Oakes
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THIS IS HISTORICAL INFORMATION ONLY
The AMAN Folk Ensemble was founded in 1964 on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) by artistic directors Leona Wood and Anthony Shay, and music director Philip Harland. AMAN was under the auspices of the University Recreation Association. The group was formed for the purpose of preserving and presenting America's multicultural heritage as it is expressed through music, song and dance, and performed for student groups and various ethnic music and dance festivals. University Vice Chancellor, Dr. Norman Miller, an early campus advisor, later became AMAN's first Board of Directors' Chairman.
The company took its name from the biblical affirmative that Eastern Europeans and Middle Easterners pronounce "Aman," and Americans, "Amen." The implications of this word are reflected in the abiding respect and affection for cultural values invested in the research, choreography, music, and staging of AMAN's international repertoire.
From its inception, the AMAN Folk Ensemble, renamed AMAN International Folk Ensemble and later AMAN International Music and Dance Company, gained steadily in artistic excellence and reputation as America's preeminent folkloric performing company. For many years, annual concerts at the Los Angeles County Music Center, on college campuses, and in other major theaters indicated that the company had an avid concert-going following throughout California. Also, the company never forgot its roots in the international folk dance community of the Los Angeles area, putting on many teaching "institutes" and playing live music for international folk dancing.
AMAN, throughout the years, indeed became "America's International Folk Ensemble," a national treasury of the multicultural heritage of the American people and a vibrant expression of the American spirit. As Jack Anderson of The New York Times worte: "AMAN implies that national traditions should be cherished rather than scorned. And by making its programs so varied, it expresses the hope that different cultures may co-exist harmoniously... Perhaps only in America could one find a company like AMAN."
In 1965, AMAN appeared in a North African dance sequence of the feaure film "Gambit," a Universal Studios production, their first motion picture.
A four-year series of sold-out performances began in 1967 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre.
In 1968, AMAN began its annual statewide touring of California.
In 1970, the company organized its first "AMAN Institute," a series of workshops in Balkan dance taught by AMAN members and others, such as Tom Bozigian, Harry Brauser, Billy Burke, Mary Coros, Dick Crum, Mihai David, Elsie Ivancich Dunin, Jerry Duke, Robin & Vince Evanchuk, José Faget, John Gibson, Barry Glass, Joe Graziosi, Edy Greenblatt, Jerry Helt, Graham Hempel, Petur Iliev, Martin Koenig, Atanas Kolarovski, Steve Kotansky, Jaap Leegwater, Roo Lester, Ahmet Lüleci, Vicki Maheu, Christopher Miller & Lynnanne Hanson, France Bourque-Moreau, Yves Moreau, Dick Oakes, Judy Scalin, David Shochat, István (Kovács) Szabó, Tineke van Geel, and John Zeretzke. There also were singing workshops at the Institutes taught by members such as Barry Glass, Deanne Hendricks, Trudy Israel, and Richard Rowland. Plus there was live music by the AMAN, NAMA, and Pitu Guli Orchestras.
The company released its first recordings in conjunction with this annual event. Proceeds from the Institutes were used to send AMAN members on research trips.
The Dorothy Chandler Pavilion heralded the beginning of the company's 1971 season with a sold-out concert of a decade of performances under the Music Center Presentations banner (AMAN was the first California dance company to be presented by the MCP). Performing regularly at the Los Angeles Music Center, Greek Theatre, and the Ambassador Auditorium, the company felt it had finally "arrived."
In 1974, AMAN selected from the larger ensemble a core company of ten performers to further the company's mission to increase awareness of and appreciation for the world's etnnic diversity. Througout the years, the group developed and implemented an ongoing program of music and dance education that expanded its scope and visibility each season thereafter. Education always remained an important focus of the group. It's yearly programs included performances for literally hundreds of schools, from elementary- to college-level, at home and on tour. Residency activities, often combined with these performances, included teacher inservices, classroom instruction in traditional music and dance, and development of school-wide festivals with community involvement. All of these were accompanied by extensive curriculum materials developed by members of the group, which included educators, folklorists, and ethnomusicologists. In an average season, the group presented more than 100 lecture/demonstrations and more than 350 workshops.
In 1975, AMAN joined the prestigious roster of companies funded by the National Endowment for the Arts -- Dance Touring Program, and the company toured extensively around the United States.
In 1977, AMAN was the subject of an Emmy award-winning program produced and presented on Los Angeles' public television station KCET-Channel 28.
In 1979, the company made its New York debut at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
In 1980, AMAN's first statewide tour of Alaska took place under the auspices of Arts Alaska, Inc., and the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO).
During the 1981 season, AMAN gave over 70 performances in 15 states during their first national tour of the United States.
In 1982, AMAN was the featured entertainment attaction at World Showcase of the Walt Disney World EPCOT Center's opening in Florida for 19 weeks. During the residency at EPCOT Center, AMAN appeared on a nationally broadcast CBS television special.
AMAN's 20th season began in 1983 with the company's first international tour as official cultural ambassadors under the auspices of the United States Information Agency, to seven countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The repertoir of AMAN's company of 35 included a "fascinating variety of dances from North Africa, Europe, Asia, and -- in recent years -- increasingly from the Americas." Walter Terry, writing in the "Saturday Review," stated, "Those who think they don't like folk dance companies have probably not seen AMAN, L.A.'s cross cultural troupe that's been playing to rave reviews across the country." The Columbia Artists Festivals presentation flyer heralded AMAN as "America's Great International Music and Dance Company."
In 1984, their 20th season culminated with concert performances for the Olympic Arts Festival and featured participation in the Opening Ceremonies of the 1984 Olympic Games. Robert Fitzpatrick, festival director, stated that AMAN was selected to perform at the festival because "it is our belief that your organization ranks as one of our nation's most outstanding dance companies." In September of 1984, AMAN began its third decade of performing with a 10-week national tour that included 56 concerts in 22 states. The 1984-85 season also included performing on network television, program development for a major outdoor arts festival, and five concert performances in Southern California.
During the 1985 season, the company toured the Upper Midwest in the fall, and the Pacific Northwest and California in the spring. The number of community service programs increased substantially, especially those held in collaboration with other institutions, such as the Craft and Folk Art Museum, UCLA, the Design Center of Los Angeles, and Music Center on Tour. AMAN was also chosen as the official Program coordinator for the San Fernanco Valley Cultural Foundation's annual Pacific Rim Festival.
In 1986, the company became established with the Los Angeles Public Library to present an ongoing series of performances, workshops, and exhibits. Also in 1986, artistic director Barry Glass was appointed to the National Endowment for the Arts Dance Review Panel.
AMAN coordinated the entertainment in 1987 for the Pacifica Festival, which featured ethnic performance groups from southern California.
In 1988-89, AMAN celebrated its 25th Anniversary Season with performances in California and in the southern and midwestern United States. The company also exhibited its costumes at the Craft and Folk Art Museum. The year also saw another AMAN Institute and an Alumni Reunion, plus programs in schools and libraries, and gala Silver Anniversary Concerts at UCLA's Royce Hall in conjunction with the UCLA Center for the Performing Arts. Chris Pasles stated, in an article for the "Los Angeles Times, "Among several works added to the repertory this season, Don Spark's duet from the Hungarian village of Méhkerék, stood out, with Don Sparks and Paul Sheldon generating complex, flamenco-like rhythms through vigorous hand claps, foot stomps and slaps upon their boot-heels and thighs in counterpoint to rhythms played by two fiddlers. Trudy Israel's a cappella women's choral group, Nevenka, appeared as guest artists, singing several striking Bulgarian songs... Saxophonist Eran Fraenkal, violinist John Zeretzke and clarinetist Tim Rice had individual turns at expressive wailing in a selection of Romani tunes from Yugoslavia... Stuart Brotman was the lyrical autoharp soloist in Appalachia Suite..." The "Daily Variety" Dance Review wrote, "Especially interesting was the Linđo from Dalmatia, featuring artistic director Barry Glass, whose ability to define the essential character of each dance is wonderful to see... Mala Ganguli and her tabla player, Jeff Feldman, brought their own wonderful harmonies and rhythms to an Indian suite... Among the large company of excellent dancers are a number of virtuosos, whose pyrotechnics elicted special bravos from the house. But they were icing on a very rich cake. AMAN continues to be one of Los Angeles' real cultural treasures." The company's newest program, "Passing It On," created for a multi-generational audience, beautifully portrays ways in which music, dance, and other traditions are passed on from person to person, generation to generation, culture to culture, and child to child.
In 1990, the company produced its first "International Music Series."
In 1991, AMAN premiered "Music and Dance of North America," its first concert program with a specific cultural focus.
In 1992, the company received a grant from the prestigious National Dance Repertory Enrichment Program to support innovative collaboration with acclaimed modern choreographer Laura Dean.
1993 saw the first extended New York season at the Joyce Theater -- world premier of "Light" choreographed by Laura Dean. AMAN released a compact disk of World Music. The company also took tours to Virginia, Maryland, Indiana, Iowa, and New York.
In 1994, the company celebrated its 30th Anniversary Season at the Alex Theater in Glendale. AMAN also took tours to Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Oklahoma.