Magazine May/June 2013 Perpetual Dreamer

01 May 2013, 12:00
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Perpetual Dreamer

The characters created by Michael Poghosyan have accompanied film and theatre lovers for over three decades. He is one of those artists who have made a distinctive contribution to the development of contemporary Armenian art and whose creative works appeal throughout the world – even though he's composed most of his work in Armenia. Poghosyan appeals to several generations because since the ’80s, he has kept pace with the times, sometimes even getting ahead of them. He draws inspiration from his Motherland, where he was given the title of “Honorary Artist of Armenia.” Last winter, the award-winning Poghosyan visited the United States to present his latest project, If Only Everyone was submitted for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. The movie brought Artsakh into sharp relief before the world in a language of universal human values.

His ever-calm exterior disguises his inner world pulsating with storms of creativity that erupt inimitably, each time couched in surprisingly innovative forms of expression. In the course of his creative life, the much-loved artist has expressed himself in almost all art genres and has been an innovator-experimenter. “In any society, those who do not fit in the regular typecast and do not conform to the familiar and accessible templates are branded as ‘difficult’ people.

Michael Poghosyan is one of these difficult people,” notes Dr. Henrik Hovhannisyan in his piece, The Artist of the Transition Period. Our interview with Poghosyan, an artist of multiple talents – author/ screenwriter, film and theatre actor, singer, film director and producer – who portrays the Motherland, culture and the national identity, was reminiscent of a creative screenshot in itself.

“Yerevan is everything to me – my fate, love, health and illness,” Poghosyan confesses. These words about the Armenian capital emanate a distinctive force as they are honest and are the fulcrum and springboard for his creativity. Poghosyan’s love for his country and people compel him to heroism by courageously speaking up and pointing out flaws and deficiencies, but at the same time leading to beauty and kindness to building the Motherland we have always dreamt of having. This is only characteristic of an intellectual artist whose work radiates so much love and affection for Armenia that they are transmitted to us, they penetrate our cells and will not let us rest until they reach our minds in the form of a question: what is our mission in the world and our duty toward our Motherland? Poghosyan responds to this question through his works of art; he has discovered the truth through his personal struggles and search for his own self.

“In the early 1990s, I went to the United States for several months, and I believe that I became a fully-fledged Armenian individual and artist in this period when I realized that through my heart and soul I was attached to Armenia and could feel my roots deep down. I felt stifled by nostalgia and decided to share my thoughts and soothe my nostalgia by communicating with fellow residents and started writing unsigned letters to made-up addresses in Yerevan. Thus, through examining and discovering myself away from Armenia, I came to an understanding of who I was, what I wanted and what I had to do and returned to Armenia, embarking on a new phase in my life.” Poghosyan makes a clean breast of his feelings on the pages of Yerevan magazine. You may have been a recipient of one of his unsigned letters.

The Beginning

“I trace my own beginnings to the time when my father said ‘I love you’ to my mother, and this is because every child is the result of love,” he explains. Poghosyan’s father was the founder of the Gyumri Medical College. Despite being a chemist by profession, he wrote poems dedicated to his mother. And it was in this atmosphere permeated with art that the future artist was born. “My abilities for art became apparent from the age of six when I didn’t have to make an effort, it came to me instinctively. I started singing from the age of six and became a solo singer in the choir. Then I started drawing and sculpting as well as playing the guitar.” Upon seeing her brother’s sculptures, Poghosyan’s sister presented him to the great sculptor Yervand Kochar, who had much praise for the adolescent Michael’s works and took him on as his apprentice. “At that time, I was helping Kochar with his famous sculpture The Muse of Cybernetics, which later became the symbol of the Institute named after Mergelyan,” reminisces Poghosyan.

He did not stay with the master sculptor for long, however, and took a sharp U-turn to the world of music, singing in a vocal-instrumental ensemble. Then again, it was time to pursue specialized education, and Poghosyan entered the Yerevan State Academy of Fine Arts, graduating from the department of Ceramics with honors. It seemed as though his professional path was chosen, but it turned out that this was not Poghosyan’s fate. Soon he found himself among actors, and his well-pronounced gift for acting was noticed. “I was asked to test my abilities on the stage and decided to enter the Acting Department of the Yerevan Fine Arts and Theatre Institute. But before I could do that, I received the blessing of the renowned director Vardan Achemyan. I studied at the Operetta (Musical Theatre) Department headed by Tatevik Sazandaryan. Although my voice was more suitable for the variety genre, she noticed me and admitted me to her department, which made me take singing seriously. It was in this period that I was offered a job at the Men’s Club, a popular 1970s troupe that later formed the basis for the establishment of the Yerevan Chamber Theatre,” recalls Poghosyan. He thus became one of the co-founders of the Yerevan State Chamber Theatre, simultaneously taking part in the construction work and playing in the performances." In its essence, this was a new type of theatre as there was no concept of the fourth wall; instead we directly interacted with the audience through songs, dances and plasticity of movements. This was my passion. In our performances, we reflected on various problems, protested against injustice, and all of this was done within the comedy genre. It was here that I received my conditioning in many aspects and theatre took root in me.”

Self Searching

Several years later, the desire for change set Poghosyan on a path of searching for a new beginning, and he left the Chamber Theatre. At Sos Sargsyan’s invitation, he performed for two years at the Hamazgayin Yerevan Drama Theatre. “One day I felt that I was suffocating from the conventional theatrical formulae and left the theatre searching for my calling,” recollects Poghosyan. As a result, in 1997, with his friend Armen Hambardzumyan and other collaborators, he produced the overwhelmingly popular and much-loved theatrical comedy Khatabalada. “Through this project, I finally found the form of expression that best resonated with me, bringing together the experience and knowledge gleaned from the Club of the Funny and Inventive (Russian comedy TV show), Chamber Theatre, singing and other genres spanning my artistic career. Khatabaladawas the release of my pent-up desire to talk about the most serious realities and phenomena in a genre that could be called pessimistic comedy. I had always been searching for this genre that would shake the body with laughter but at the same time would lodge this deep angst in one’s soul. To have these two feelings together in this way, one gets both the laughter and the meaning of the laughter,” explains Poghosyan.

From this point forward Poghosyan worked as a freelance artist producing a number of films and projects as a screenwriter, director, and actor, embodying dozens of roles. He considers comedy a vital and serious art genre with its own rules. “If we take Chaplin’s example, there are both a conceptual framework and plasticity, hence a philosophy.

The Armenian film industry has a number of short films in this genre, like Tzhvzhik or 01-99, that are popular to this day. Today there is a need to revive the traditions of this genre,” proposes the artist. Poghosyan is concerned that this genre is adulterated as the performers are not professionally trained. “One may compose art incessantly, but one may also exhaust his or her reserves of creativity and resort to repeating oneself as one runs out of forms of expression. And if one has specialized training, this enables the artist to express himself in all genres.”

 

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