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04-08-06, 19:50
Group celebrates traditions, fine arts of Central Asian countries

The Bloomington-based Silk Road Ensemble presented its 14th annual Silk Road Festival Sunday afternoon at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. The event began in the theater lobby with exhibits from a dozen countries of the Silk Road region, the historical route that connected the East and West from Turkey to China. The event was manned largely by students studying these languages in the IU Summer Workshop in Slavic, East European and Central Asian Languages.

Graduate student Eric Schluessel explained the displays of clothing and weapons of the Uighurs, an ethnically Turkic Muslim people of western China. Holding up a small knife he said, "A Uighur man gives this to his wife when he goes away on a trip so she can protect herself in his absence."

Other exhibits also included weaponry as well as popular music and art, clothing and jewelry.

The performances began several minutes late due to technical difficulties, and one act had to be postponed until later in the program, but once the singers and dancers reached the stage, the nearly full house received them enthusiastically. Standout performances included Kyrgyz folk songs by Munara Mailybekova, classical Indian dance from the State of Orissa by Nazanin Pallavi, Alevi mystical music sung and performed on the stringed saz by Ozan Jemali and traditional music by three young Mongolian siblings using the piano, the horse-head fiddle and the astonishing voice of the older teenaged brother, an accomplished throat singer.

Following an intermission, the professional musicians of the popular Silk Road Ensemble took the stage to present pieces from North Africa, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, the Caucasus and Kazakhstan. A medley of Azerbaijani folk songs prompted audience members to begin bellydancing in front of the stage, and the final piece, a pop song in the Lebanese dialect of Arabic, ended the evening on an upbeat note.

Shahyar Daneshgar, director of the Silk Road Ensemble and a lecturer in the IU Department of Central Eurasian Studies, thanked the audience for coming in the extreme heat and humidity of that afternoon, especially the performers and guests from Central Asia who wore traditional heavy felt robes and hats to the festival.

"550 people came, and the theater was practically full. It's amazing that so many people came out in this heat, and I think the program this year was wonderful," he said.

Audience members surveyed after the show were unanimous in their enjoyment of the music and dances.

"Every piece was too good to pick just one favorite, but I really liked the classical Indian dancer and the Middle Eastern music, especially the Iranian songs," said Katrina Bristow of Iowa City, Iowa, who was in town to visit her daughter at IU.

"I loved the diversity of the program in bringing so many different cultures together, especially the Indian dancer and the Kyrgyz lady's singing," said Mohammad Kaviani, associate director of the Center for Economic Education at IU Purdue University-Indianapolis who drove to Bloomington with his family for the event. "It's great that the Bloomington community can have this experience."