This Week in Armenian History

Birth of Vanush Khanamirian (November 5, 1927)

Vanush Khanamirian has been one of the foremost figures in the development and diffusion of Armenian choreography in the 20th century, particularly after serving for many years as the artistic director of the Armenian state dance ensemble.

Khananirian was born on November 5, 1927, in Yerevan. His father was executed during the Stalinist purges. He studied at the Stepan Shahumian high school and simultaneously he pursued studies at the institute of dance arts of Yerevan from 1935-1941.. After his graduation, he joined the Alexander Spendiarian opera and ballet theater, where he was a solo dancer until 1971. His first major role came with the staging of Charles Gounod’s “Walpurgis Night”. He danced as well in Aram Khatchatourian’s “Gayane” and “Spartacus,” Alexander Spendiarian’s “Khandut” and “Almast,” and Edgar Hovhannisian’s “Marmar” ballets, as well as the dance fragments of Armen Tigranian’s “Anush” opera, among others. He was either the leading dancer or the choreographer of every opera staged in 1941-1969.

In 1953, when Yervand Kochar was making the famous statue of David of Sassoun now placed near the train station of Yerevan, he was impressed by the brilliant rendering of Davidt of Sassoun by Khanamirian in Spendiarian’s “Khandut” ballet and then decided to model the face of the hero based on him.


Khanamirian was awarded the title of People’s Artist of Armenia in 1963. After a short transition as ballet master of Tatul Altunian’s dance and song ensemble, in 1968-1992, he became the artistic director of the state dance ensemble of Armenia. The transition from classical ballet to popular choreography was completed with brilliant results.


By representing the aesthetics of the Armenian popular dance on stage, Khanamirian revealed the Armenian dance to the world. After 1962, he toured many countries throughout the world, especially with the dance ensemble, which sometimes offered sixty performances in sixty days. He staged dozens of works: “Gayane,” “The Fountains of Bakhchisaray,” “Spartacus,” “Sako of Lori,” “Raymonda,” “Khandut,” “Swans’ Lake,” as well as dance numbers, including “Festive suite,” “Caravan,” “Immortality,” Komitas’ “Vagharshapat Dance,” Aram Khatchaturian’s “Enzeli,” “Tulips,” a series of national dances, etc. Many of his creations performed by the dance ensemble became the staple of Armenian dance groups throughout the world.

He worked with students and followers in different Diaspora communities to develop Armenian dance. In 1998, Khanamirian was decorated with the medal “Movses Khorenatsi,” Armenia’s highest state award for contributions to Armenian culture. In 2000, he founded and led until his death the Union of Choreographers of Armenia. In 2004, he founded the “Vanush” ensemble of veteran dance teachers, and in 2010 the “Bardiner” dance group.

Khanamirian passed away on October 5, 2011, in Yerevan. Several academies of dance in Armenia and the United States bear his name, as well as the Union of Choreographers of Armenia.

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