Sunday, May 30, 2010

Presidio Dance Theatre Joins Mesopotamian Night 2010

(Photo by Valentin Baronovsky, Saint Petersburg Russia)

It is a pleasure to announce that the Presidio Dance Theatre, which has a wide range of Mesopotamian dance repertoire, has joined our team to help with choreographic and dance needs of MN-2010 Assyrian Musical. We will provide more detailed info later. The following is a profile of the company and its artistic director SHERENE MELANIA submitted to us by Ms. Judy George Bretschneider, founder, president and CEO of Presidio Dance Theatre.

Presidio Dance Theatre: The Company

Led by Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer, Sherene Melania, the Company of international artists annually presents Winter and Spring Seasons with an original repertoire of over 100 works. It performs for prestigious national events and has been featured internationally on television. The Company tours on the East Cost in Spring; Internationally in Summer; and Statewide in Fall. Costumes for the Company are designed and created primarily by the artists and designers of the Mariinsky Theatre Artshop (Kirov Ballet) of Saint Petersburg, Russia.

Presidio Dance Theater endeavors to preserve, enhance, and present the artistic, classical and cultural traditions of dance, music, and theater through performances imbued with international perspective and inclusiveness that acknowledges the extraordinary diversity of our community.

SHERENE MELANIA, The Artistic Director

Sherene Melania is Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer of Presidio Dance Theater & The School of Presidio Dance Theater, the only performing arts facility based in a National Park, except for Wolf Trap in Virginia. She is an accomplished performing Artist, Choreographer and Dance Scholar. From Harvard University, Sherene will receive a Master of Arts degree (May 2011).  From the University of San Francisco, Sherene received a B.A. in Performing Arts and Social Justice, the Dean's Medal for Excellence in the Arts, and serves as a Performing Arts Mentor for the College of Arts and Sciences. From Russia's prestigious Saint Petersburg State Conservatory, she received a Certificate for Ballet Direction Specialty and Choreography. Since 2007, appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sherene serves on the San Francisco Arts Commission, representing the field of dance. She is the Chairman of the SF Street Artists Committee, and member of the SF Community Arts, Education, and Cultural Equity Committee, SF Arts Providers Alliance, California Arts Advocates, and International Dance Council UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Sherene Melania uses her passion for dance to encourage not only an appreciation for the arts and artistic excellence, but also the value of developing "complete artists" who utilize academic and dance education, as a tool for promoting cultural awareness and understanding, leading to a deep compassion for humanity.


Trained in classical dance by San Francisco Ballet School and Kirov Academy of Ballet, Washington, DC, Sherene performed principal youth roles with both San Francisco Ballet and Kirov Ballet (on its US tour), and at 16, participated in the Prix de Lausanne international dance competition, one of twelve to represent the USA. She also studied character and international folk dance in the style of Igor Moiseyev. After spending two years in Russia as the student of Kirov Ballet Mistress, Gabriella Komleva, Sherene performed as a guest artist with ballet companies in Russia, France, Germany, Sweden, Brazil, and Switzerland.


Sherene has set pieces for dance companies at home and in Europe, and presented for the United Nations, International Red Cross, and PBS. She annually presents Winter and Spring Seasons for Presidio Dance Theatre and Junior Company. 2008-2009 live audiences exceeded 50,000 at major venues and festivals including the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House, Marin Center, Palace of Fine Arts, Herbst Theater, Davies Symphony Hall, and SF City Hall. San Francisco Weekly named Presidio Dance Theatre, "San Francisco's Best Dance Company of 2009."
Internationally, Sherene choreographed performances for the 2008 Saint Petersburg's famed White Nights Festival at the Catherine Palace; the 300th Anniversary of Tsarskoye Selo International Festival. In April 2010, under her direction, Presidio Dance Theatre Junior Company represented the USA on tour in Istanbul, Izmir, and Ankara where she was presented to the President of Turkey.  In 2012, Sherene has
been invited to present performances in Budapest, Hungary and Paris, France.


As a Principal Artist of Presidio Dance Theatre and Collage, Sherene performs across the United States and Canada. Internationally, Sherene is a Guest Artist with Les Ballets Persans, Stockholm and London; Iranian New Year's, New York City; Magic of Persia, London. 


Sherene's work has been recognized by the press nationally in Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher, and internationally broadcast. In 2008, The School of Presidio Dance Theatre received an award from Nickelodeon Television for "Best Artsy Program" in the SF Bay Area and in 2009, the BEST DANCE CLASSES in the SF Bay Area Award. Sherene designed and directs DANCE OUT! a free citywide education program offered in the public schools, funded by the California Arts Council and National Endowment for the Arts, which was nominated by the Presidio Trust to receive the President's Commission for Arts & Humanities, Coming Up Taller Award.  Last year, Presidio Dance Theatre won BEST DANCE COMPANY of San Francisco by SF Weekly.


Sherene's office is located at 1158 Gorgas at Marshall, Presidio of San Francisco, CA 94129. Her telephone is 415 561-3997 and email:

Monday, May 24, 2010

Hannibal's Ziggurat of Love: The Victory Over Fascism

The following article is by Eden Naby (Cambridge, MA), the Mesopotamian Night's veteran sponsor in the anticipation of upcoming art auction at Mesopotamian Night 2010. Eden Naby generously purchased ten limited edition prints of "Victory Over Fascism" and donated them to Mesopotamian Night project. These ten pieces are signed by Rabi Hannibal and are available to interested individuals and organizations. Please contact us at if interested in buying

Hannibal Alkhas (b. 1930), Assyrian painter and poet, was born in Kermanshah, Iran into a learned family that produced two cultural pillars of modern Assyrians, his father, writer and publisher Addai, and his uncle Jean (John), one of the famous Assyrian poets of the 20th century. The parents met and married away from their original homes in Urmie due to the genocide against Assyrians in west Azarbaijan and Ottoman Turkey.

Rabi (master, teacher) Hannibal spent his early years in Kermanshah, Ahwaz and Tehran. In 1951, he left for the United States in pursuit of higher education. After first studying philosophy, he earned his BA and MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1959 he returned to Iran and began teaching at the Tehran School of Fine Arts. During that time he established Gilgamesh Gallery, the first modern art gallery in Iran, where aspiring young artists received recognition. In 1963, he returned to the US and taught at Monticello College and served as chairman of the art department. In 1969 he went back to Iran and settled into teaching at Tehran University for eleven years. Returning once more to the US in 1980, Hannibal spent twelve years teaching the arts at the Assyrian Civic Club of Turlock, private colleges and the UC Berkeley and UCLA.

This multi-talented Assyrian, steeped in his Assyrian and Persian cultural heritage, has been honored often in Iran and by the diaspora Assyrian community, with exhibits and publications of his poetry. He remains a devoted artist whose CD Urmie pays tribute to his family’s roots in the now mostly lost Assyrian village communities of Urmie and Salamas. For inspiration, he draws on the strong tradition of Persian poetry from Khayyam to Nadirpur, Assyrian history from the ancient to the modern periods, and shows agility in bridging the two cultures while making them accessible to the West.

The Ziggurat Series comprises of thirty paintings called Ziggurat of Love (but titled individually) all painted in the same medium and with similar motifs, within a six month period in 1996, while the artist was living in California.

The conceptualization of the series came through a vision when this master painter imagined himself transported to ancient Assyria. There, in Nineveh, he met with court artists of the time to discuss painting a mural much as they created painted reliefs of political history. He agreed to paint a mural for them but with visions of the future.

Within the basic shape of a ziggurat the artist combines stylized ancient motifs with subject matter taken from visual artists since the ancient period. The added complexity comes from the presentation of historical events and other subjects, much as the ancient Assyrian artists applied their talents to the presentation of contemporaneous subjects. Images reminiscent of Rembrandt, El Greco, Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Van Gogh, and Behzad appear on the wall on which his ancient imagined peers give him space to paint. Only the stone walls of Nineveh’s palaces are no longer available to Assyrians. Instead, Assyrian artists make do with art that is transportable into diaspora.

The Ziggurat series is thus a history of art and a representation of the artist’s own Assyrian heritage, as well as the history of humanity, that have influenced Rabi Hannibal’s own life.

The entire series has been exhibited three times in the United States: Los Angeles, San Jose, and Chicago (1997). All the paintings of the original series are held in various private collections in the United States.

Victory Over Fascism (1996, California) 22x28 inches
Oil/acrylic on paper, privately owned.

One of the last of four paintings in the Ziggurat series, this powerful painting, full of hope, nonetheless reminds the viewer of the millions lost in World War II to the genocide perpetrated on European Jews, the cruelties of Stalinist revolutionary interpretation, and the perpetuation of wanton misery upon minorities like the Assyrians.

The victorious dagger that breaks the ancient swastika symbol, adopted by Nazi fascism, is attached to a muscular arm that appears to come from a mother tenderly gazing upon her child. The child clutches a triple leafed olive branch of peace, a motif that appears in several of the paintings in the series. The mother’s hat is decorated with traditional Assyrian embroidery design that also cascades down her dark tresses.

The ziggurat in the background has seven levels to fulfill the artist’s vision but is a departure from the three levels of Assyrian ziggurats.

These Victory over Fascism limited edition prints represent hope and love conquering evil. The limited edition prints, in numbers 1-10, is available for purchase to benefit the charitable activities of the Assyrian Aid Society through encouragement of the visual and musical culture of Assyrians. These high quality prints, at the dimension of the original painting, carry the distinctive original squared signature of the painter, an individual number, and are framed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Abboud Zeitoune Commentary on Mesopotamian Night

Mr. Abboud Zeitoune the sole expert on Assyrian discography recently sent us an article about Mesopotamian Night concert. We are glad our project has echoed beyond the boundaries of California and we are excited that Assyrian intellectuals and community activists are paying attention.


As I was asked to write a review about the Mesopotamian Night Concerts, I firstly tried to find something similar or the same as this way of music performance. My second thought was “are there any negative points or aspects where the arranger should recognize in the future.”
The Assyrian music scene is generally lacking high quality music performance. Mostly Assyrian music is played at dance festivals or weddings. The rare number of exceptional events could not stop this development. Although today we have at least 500 singers. I’ll discuss the quality of modern Assyrian music later in this review.

There are a small number of outstanding musical events in modern Assyrian history, which we can declare as milestones in this field. There are only some concerts which took place which are memorable to public. Such an event was the UNESCO – Concert of the years 1973/1974 in Beirut. Although the possibilities regarding recording, acoustic and music were not comparable to the current standards this concert is still alive in at least two generations.
With the emigration of Assyrians in the last decades, several organizations and centers for music have been established. While Chicago counts as the east-Assyrian music capital, Sweden became the important place for west-Assyrian music productions.

In the last 30 years there were many musical projects organized. Most of the music productions are still music albums of single artists. In the same time the number of concerts is rare. In comparison to the US in Europe more concerts were arranged. Here I can mention the following (main concerts):

HA Bnissan Concert in Sweden 1989

Concert Unexpected Meeting in Sweden 1998, by the talented young musician Gabi Masso and Yaakob Danho

Ornina Concert 1999

Syriac Music Choir in Sweden (Issa Hobil)

Several choir concerts of the Mor Afrem Choir Wiesbaden (Dr. Abrohom Lahdo)

Several choir concerts of the Mor Ephrem Choir Enschede (Elias Musake)

Honour concerts for Habib Mousa (2009) and Shabo Bahe (2010) in Sweden

I am personally pleased to recognize the larger interest of the public in such events.

The Location

I am very aware of Assyrian musical projects. I was happy as I saw the advertisement of a concert in the US. This was the trailer for the Mesopotamian Night 2008. The first thing that took my attention was the location of the planned concert. This location ( was something impressive. This concert hall was a good choice to guarantee a concert atmosphere. In comparison this hall is more professional than I saw here in Europe. Most concerts I attended were hold in community halls or churches. In such buildings it’s always a problem to get the best acoustic and concert atmosphere.
The Program

In both concerts classical Assyrian music was main topic in the program. For this the arranger took pieces of masters like William Daniel or Paulus Khofri. For sure this kind of music is of high quality and there is no doubt that these works are masterpieces. I am trying to find some Assyrian origins in their music. As I am a west-Assyrian, who grew up in an oriental society I feel more comfortable with church or oriental tunes. The other thing is that all these masters studied in western countries and were influenced by classical European composers.

In comparison to this part I can mention the concert of Malfono Nuri Iskander, who is very known in Syria and their surroundings. In one concert in 2008 he created something new from old heritage. He shows that the roots of Arabic or oriental music have their roots in our church and so from ancient Assyria [see this clip1, or listen to this audio].

For the Mesopotamian Night series I wish that the arranger could present something similar from our ancient roots. I am not against the modernization of our music. But to develop our own Assyrian music and not to adapt other music styles. We have great pieces in the current style, but there are the Assyrian roots (beside the language) missing.

For the popular music part the choice of Ashur and Walter in MN was good. There is a lack in our music scene of concert artists. Most of our singers are Party entertainer where they can hide their mistakes behind loud keyboard machines. In a concert with a well organized orchestra it’s more difficult to make a good performance. Beside the above mentioned artists I think Linda George, Nagham Edwar Mousa or Ogin BetSamo are further artists who would be good on stage.

In general I missed the west-Assyrian part in the MN concerts. We have also great performer who could fill the stage. These singer show their talent in such events in several occasions as I mentioned above. Beside known singers like Habib Mousa, Ninib A. Lahdo or Sardanapal Asaad there are also younger talents who could take this challenge. There are also pioneers and masters in west Assyrians music like Gabriel Asaad who also deserved a tribute at one of the next concerts.

The Musicians

The variety of musicians and instruments impressed me too. Also the conductors were professionals who had the orchestra under their control. I am also happy to see that many of the musicians were Assyrians. In this context I remember a statement also by Nuri Iskander who was asked to arrange the first Assyrian song festival in Qamishly. He said I can’t work with wedding and party musicians. He said that these kind of performance is different than parties and asked the arranger to invest more money in this issue.

I compare also here the differences between west and east Assyrian music styles. The eastern part has three different schools in the recent past. In Iran the influence of European music imported by masters like William Daniel, Nebu Issabey or Paulus Khofri was large. In Iraq we can see two different developments. The schools of Hanna Patros or Jamil Bashir were oriental and used also instruments from the same area as Oud. The other development started in the Royal Air force station of Habbaniya. There our Assyrian people adapted the western style of music and their instruments. The oriental style and instruments dominate the west Assyrian music.

We have to consider that the whole oriental music have their roots in ancient Mesopotamia. Also mostly all instruments were known by our ancestors. I hope we could focus more in our old heritage and develop the music taking the preserved musical traditions from our churches. For most scholars there is no doubt, that ancient melodies were implemented in our church hymns. A good door to enter this treasure is the BethGazo of Saint Mor Afrem.


In the last years we have seen some good concerts which is a good sign for the development of our music. Especially the Mesopotamian Night Concerts have the potential to deliver one of the best performances of Assyrian music worldwide. The arranger should only consider the mix of eastern and western Assyrian parts and try to implement more Assyrian-oriental elements in the music. In my opinion MN concert/s were a good start to stimulate the interest of our people in listening and appreciating music of a higher standard and of different styles to what is the daily normal music of these days being presented at parties, weddings, on radios and/or TV channels.

One more important thing for the MN series is the donation for charity projects. So we can develop our culture (music) and help our needy people in Atra.

Finally we in Europe hear and see good musical development from USA. Of course the Assyrian Hollywood is Chicago with their singers but such a quality of performance was not well known until now.

I thank the AAS for this great project series and hope one day to attend one of these events.
I also thank my friends Romeo Hanna, Moneer Cherie (both from Sydney) and Hanibal Romanus (Sweden) for pre-reading this article and for their comments.

Personal request: For preserving our musical heritage I am collecting Assyrian vinyl records. It will be great if readers of this article could contact me for buying or exchanging such material. This material is needed for my next book on Assyrian music. Please contact me at

Abboud Zeitoune

About Abboud Zeitoune

Abboud Zeitoune’s passion for the Assyrian music developed with the participation at the activities of the Assyrian Beth-Nahrin culture and sport association in Wiesbaden (Germany) and his long membership in the Assyrian Democratic Organization.

Until the year 1984 he attended the known “Taw Mim Simkat” school in Beirut. He studied the Syriac language till the 5th class (teacher at that time: Saliba Afram Nejme, now in Germany). This education was sponsored by Bishop George Saliba. Abboud participated also at some activities of the Assyrian association (“Al Jum’iya al-Thaqafiya”) there.

After his migration to Germany in 1984 he had the fortune to continue his school and was able to leave it with a degree in economics in 1996. Today Abboud works as internal Auditor for the known retailing company METRO.

From 1987 Abboud took part in regular activities, like festivals, lectures or meetings of the association in Wiesbaden. There he was responsible for several tasks (like leader of youth-, folklore- or university graduates group). Between 2000/2001 he was also elected as chairman of the whole association. Since 2008 he is again chairman of the Beth-Nahrin cultural Association in Wiesbaden

Already in 1991 Abboud Zeitoune became a member the ADO which at that time were operating in secret. Through his membership in the ADO he participated and organized supraregional activities like youth camps.

In the ADO he became responsible for German Section in 1997 – 2003. During this period he gave many lectures (e.g. at the I. “Suryoye L-Suryoye” symposium in Heidelberg). From 2003 till May 2007 he was responsible for the European mediadepartment of the ADO (especially the website

In the field of journalism he worked and wrote for several newspapers and magazines:

German editor of the “Shrogo”, the magazin of the association in Wiesbaden (1993 – 1995 and 1999-2000)

German editor of “Shemsho”, the magazine of the assyrian federation in Holland (1992 – 1993)

Author of several articles in FUNOYO, the new european-assyrian magazine since end of 2005.

He has been married since 1997 to Wafa Shamoun and has three children (Tuma, Sibora and Lebaryo).

His book “Music Pearls of Beth-Nahrin – An Assyrian/Syriac Discography” is the first attempt to document and archive our modern Assyrian music.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

AAS-A Newsletter Online

The June 2010 issue of the AAS-A Tree of Life quarterly newsletter has just gone to the printers but is available immediately for you to read online in its digital edition.

This issue includes the following stories:

- AAS-A Directors Travel to Iraq
- New Textbooks for Assyrian Students
- 2009 AAS-Iraq Activities Report
- AAS-A Annual Financial Report
- Arts and Artists Event in Los Angeles
and more!

The printed, black-and-white edition of the newsletter will be mailed to our Lifeline Pledge donors and other supporters by the end of this month.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"The Mesopotamian Night" Painting

Paul Batou's new arrival on the occasion of Mesopotamian Night 2010 musical event is called "The Mesopotamian Night" celebrating four years of tireless effort to bring the Assyrian arts and music back on track!

"The Mesopotamian Night"
Acrylic on Canvas 24x36
"And once in Sippar we played the harp for fool nations"
Paul Batou, May 2010

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Walls of Mesopotamia Hide our Love and Secrets

Paul Batou as usual has surprised us with his submission of the above painting to be auctioned at our Mesopotamian Night 2010 musical event. This is for the occasion of premiering the opera piece "Ninos & Semiramis: A Love Story".

Ninos & Shamiram
Acrylic on Canvas 24X36
"Walls of Mesopotamia Hide our Love and Secrets"
By: Paul Batou
May 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


By Paulus Khofri
Arranged and orchestrated by Michel Bosc

Mesopotamian Nights for 2010 continues to explore Rabi Paulus Khofri’s compositions orchestrated by the renowned French composer Michel Bosc. If you have never heard it, expect to be surprised by the sheer beauty of Assyrian music for a symphony orchestra.

Khofri (1923-2000) composed mounds of vocal and instrumental music that celebrates the Assyrian spirit. He published these works collectively in several books. Assyryt (“Assyrian Diamond”), from 1984, comprises a large collection of Assyrian folk pieces for piano solo contained in Book No. 3.

French composer Michel Bosc, commissioned by the Assyrian Aid Society to orchestrate Assyryt for the 2009 Mesopotamian Nights Gala Concert, chose 20 pieces from this collection for a suite. Assyryt Suite No. 1, containing 10 pieces, was a highlight in the 2009 concert. For the 2010 program, the evening will offer Assyryt Suite No. 2.

“Paulus Khofri writes for a large audience,” notes Bosc, “and the orchestra brings out a lot of color.” Bosc liked Assyryt the first time he heard it. “I felt as if I were traveling across the entire Assyrian culture,” he says.

The conservatory-trained Khofri lets his music to not only breathe with a purely Assyrian folk sound, but sometimes to also soar in the Western classical tradition. The result is an Assyrian sound that is magical.

When he began work on orchestrating Assyryt, Bosc explains, he heard a distinct European influence in Khofri’s music. For Bosc, the music had Mozartian inspiration with Assyrian harmonic colors and ornamentation. “You feel he was erudite,” Bosc adds. “But sometimes he takes a breath and the music becomes purely Assyrian. It’s like a wind of freedom, very surprising and delicious.”

Before starting his orchestration of Assyryt, Bosc recalls listening to a vast amount of Khofri’s music to get a sense of the composer’s orchestral style. He read the original piano score over and over again, and played it, until he felt as if he had composed the music himself. Although the music was clear, light, easy to play and intimate, Bosc explains he found orchestrating it a challenge nevertheless.

“I wanted to respect this music and never change it or add a single note,” he points out. “That was a challenge, because the original score is a miniature and could have been re-written with more voices or heavy chords before being translated into a full orchestra.”

What makes Assyryt Suite especially enticing is the French baroque sheen, notably that of Jean Philippe Rameau (1683-1764), that Bosc brushes over the Assyrian folkloric spirit of Khofri’s music. This is extraordinary and befitting the classical tone of the Mesopotamian Nights Gala.

“Just enjoy the music and be proud of this master,” Bosc advises. “This music is written for dreaming and singing.”

Obelit Yadgar
Writer & Master of Ceremonies

AD Form for MN-2010

Like previous years we will be publishing a program book for Mesopotamian Night 2010. This book will include important articles addressing different aspects of this year's project including artists biographies among other things. Similar to last year, Assyrian writer Obelit Yadgar has pledged his time to write interesting articles for the program book.

The cost of publishing the program book is covered by sponsor ads from businesses, organizations and individuals. Please use the form below to submit your ad.


Latest Press Release by AAS-A Head quarters in Berkley

The Assyrian Aid Society of America joins with those in the Homeland and around the world in denouncing the brutal and cowardly bombing of University of Mosul buses on Sunday that killed four students from Hamdaniya and wounded 171 others, 17 of them seriously. Our prayers are with the grieving families and with our brothers and sisters in the Nineveh Plain who are now living daily with this violence.