by Steven Pisano
The epic story of Gulayim, a teenage female warrior from Uzbekistan who banded 40 female warriors together to fight off invaders, resonates with today's headlines of women fighting back against male power, even though it tells a partly historical, partly mythic story from Central Asia that is centuries old. "Qyrq Qyz" (pronounced close to "kirk kiz") has been passed down by way of oral tradition to the present day, and it is said that almost everyone who lives in one of the "-stans" knows some version of it.
At the Brooklyn Academy of Music this weekend, sold-out audiences were treated to a contemporary telling of the story directed by Saodat Ismailova, a theater artist and filmmaker who has shuttled her work between Tashkent and Paris. With music composed by Dmitri Yanov-Yanovsky that combines traditional folk motifs from the region with more modern ambient music, the production featured musicians on stage, playing traditional instruments and singing.
Instruments included the qobyz, dutar, ghirjek, doyra, kyl-kiyak, chopo-choor, zheitgen, and other similarly named instruments that might sound funny written out here, but which sounded magical played on stage.
The singing was mystical and chant-like, and sung without supertitles, so there was no way to follow the story in the songs. The only guidance in English were subtitles flashed on the accompanying films that played throughout on a screen at the back of the stage. The production was not acted out. Musicians appeared on stage, disappeared, then reappeared in different configurations. It was all about the music and the telling of the story in the songs--just as oral tradition has kept alive such epics for thousands of years.
More photos can be found here.