Performing Arts in Uzbekistan: “El Merosi”–the theater of historical costumes Samarkand
By Agha Iqrar Haroon
Autumn is always breathtaking in Uzbekistan– offering you awesome and spectacular range of natural colours. Natural colours are not only representing by landscapes, trees, flowers and cloudless blue sky rather food stalls and bazaar (markets) are also full of fruits and vegetables of different kinds and colours and tress are shunning off their leaves; exhibiting a range of colours— yes Uzbekistan is the land of colours in autumn.
Nature of any land provides colour schemes for costumes to dwellers of the land and this is a rationale that Uzbeki (people of Uzbekistan) love to wear multi-colour costumes/cloths because nature has given them so many colours around them and all colours are part of their costumes and food. Almost every food of Uzbekistan when it is presented at table is multi-coloured and Uzbek plov (Pilaf) is one of the popular examples.
This year I decided to know the history and background of Uzbek costumes and when I was trying to find maximum information about the costumes of Uzbekistan, I came to know that there was one institution that could help me to find out historic perspective of “Costumes of Uzbekistan” and that was “El Merosi” (Folk Legacy), the theater of historical costumes located in Samarkand.
I discussed with my host Ravshan TURAKULOV (Family name is written in all capital alphabets in Central Asia so TURAKULOV is written in all capital alphabets), whose company Silk Road Destinations leads in promoting cultural heritage and tourism of Uzbekistan.
When I asked Mr. Ravshan about this Theater—he looked at my face—smiled and said:
“You know my former Ustaad (teacher) is one of the initiators of this wonderful institution and this is situated just 5 minute drive away from where we are sitting”.
My answer was simple —why not we go there and meet your former teacher.
Mr. Ravshan responded with a bigger smile and said:
“I think we are getting late because there is a Live performance in theater Hamid Olimjon (Хамид Алимджан) right now and I have been invited there and was not going but now we will go there so you can watch live performance in this theatre and my former teacher is a scientific consultant of theaters in Samarkand so I am sure he will be there”.
By next 5 minutes we were inside theatre and we found former teacher of Mr. Ravshan in lobby and Mr. Ravshan introduced me to Mr.Yusuf Negmatovitch ABDULLAEV who was teacher of Mr. Ravshan in Institute of Foreign Languages Samarkand.
I found Mr. ABDULLAEV a wonderful man and a walking encyclopedia of Uzbek culture, history and anthropology because in first 10 minutes of our conversation, he told me the essence of Uzbek cultural stating that Uzbekistan being on cross road of Civilisations had a rich history of around 10,000 years of living society where countless different civilizations survived and 9 religions interacted and mingled with each other so Uzbek culture is rich with interfaith harmony, law of Acceptance, co-existence, adaptability and an icon of knowledge, science, art, performing arts and cultural heritage.
I was deeply involved in his conversation and instantly decided to have a meeting with him soon to know more about Uzbek cultural heritage. Our first meeting ended with watching a wonder performance together about an era of Uzbek history derived from historical manuscript of “Zafar Nama”
He invited us to watch live performance of his students from Institute of Foreign Languages at stage in “El Merosi”. Next day on our arrival at “El Merosi”, he quickly briefed us about this Institute cum Theatre stating that Institute is a outcome of innovative initiative of local government of Samarkand under the guidelines giving by the President of Uzbekistan Mr. Islam Karimov who is actively involved in promoting cultural heritage of Uzbekistan.
Mr. ABDULLAEV explained that each era of history represented rules and customs that could be seen in costumes of this particular era and history through costumes is represented by “El Merosi” (Folk Legacy)– the theater of historical costumes. He said “El Merosi” opened first season for the audience in the April of 2006.
After this brief, we were offered to watch the show titled “Moment of Eternity”. The performance was simply “Exceptional” and I was totally lost in past eras representing in one-hour show. Through the language of the sense of rhythm and gestures, the way of life, customs, and traditional ceremonies of the people of Samarkand region from the most ancient times to the present time were narrated in this wonderful performance.
This show consists of different fragments of the historical past of Samarkand city. The show represents costumes of the following epochs and periods:
– costumes of Scythian riders and soldiers of the first millennium B.C. They are recreated on materials of the Hermitage, Institute of Oriental studies, Academy of Sciences of Uzbekistan. For tailoring clothes the fabrics of rough manufacture, leather and animal skins are used.
– Costumes of Anahita – 6th century BC – are created based on the Samarkand Historical Museum (clay and terracotta figures of the goddess Anahita), found on the ancient settlement of Afrosiab that is the old settlement of Samarkand. Headdresses are made from silver weaving.
– Costumes of Akhemenids (Achaemenids) date back to the 6-8th century B.C. are recreated based on stone and the mayolik bas-reliefs from the palaces in Pars, Pasagarda (Persipolis) and Babylon. Clothes of rich people and soldiers are presented as well. For tailoring of a suit brocade (gilded) is used as a fabric closest to the originals in texture.
– Sogdian costumes -IV-VII centuries are recreated based on finding in archaeological excavations at the ancient settlements of Afrosiab, Pendzhikent, Farakhshi, Balalyk-Tepe wall frescos. For tailoring the fabrics of manual manufacture with drawings (batic) are used.
– Dresses of Timurids, XIV-XV centuries, are recreated based on the miniatures of Shah-Nameh, Babur-Nameh and Zafar-Nameh. For tailoring the velvet (analog of ancient samples), brocade, and embroidery are used.
More than 100 costumes/dresses of different eras and nationalities of Central Asia starting from the Stone Age up to now are made by the performing team.
The music of this show is fascinating and has a great interest for those who are interested in Central Asian Musicology because various instruments enter in show according to the development of instruments during different eras.
This theatre is energetically participating in cultural life of the country and representing Uzbekistan in international festivals and is a continuous participant of the International Music festivals of “Sharq taronalari” that is being held after every two years in Registan Samarkand.
The theatre performs on the best stages of the country and abroad and its performance was appreciated at international performing art festivals including in Germany, Italy, Russia, Belgium, France and Turkey.
After show when I asked Mr. ABDULLAEV to tell me the philosophy of this show, he said:
“These costumes have recorded the life of our ancestors and the language of colour, shape, pottery and painting, and the theatre reveals intimate secrets and laws of the beauty of Uzbek costumes. “The national heritage” (The Folk Legacy), translates and introduces the audience not only the national suits and costumes of the past years, but also the way of life, customs and traditions of inhabitants of Uzbekistan region since the most ancient times up to the present”.
He also informed me that around 20 to 25 students Institute of Foreign languages worked in theatre every day after finishing their language classes and average age of performers is 20 years old.
When I left the theatre I was thinking that young generation of Uzbekistan can do wonders in future because the country is investing on its youth not only in sciences rather in performing Arts and language skills.
If you are in Uzbekistan, you should not finish your visit without visiting this theatre and meeting these young performers. El Merosi”–the theater of historical costumes Samarkand is situated at 27, Navoi Street and its telephone number is + 998-662-33 81 25