Guest Artist & Choreographer: Assyrian-American Ballerina, Sherene Melania to Perform Presentation of
the Dances of California's Assyrian-Americans
Sherene Melania has worked to preserve the folk and traditional regional dances and develop choreography for presentation, to represent one of California's least known artistic heritages, that of the Assyrian-Americans. There are approximately 2 million around the world today who recently celebrated the year 6756. Their art forms are learned as part of the cultural life, as they share a common ethnic heritage, language, and religion. These expressions are deeply rooted in and reflective of the Assyrian-American's shared standards of beauty, values, and life experiences, passed on from one generation to the next and express a collective wisdom.
California has the second largest population of Assyrians in the United States. According to the most recent census: 25,000 live in the Central Valley (mainly Stanislaus County); 15,000 live in the SF Bay Area; and 10,0,00 live in the Greater Los Angeles Area. Assyrians settled in California's Central Valley in the late 1800's and early 1900's assisted by the International Red Cross. They have brought to California their folk dances and have taken root here to become interwoven with the state's cultural landscape and identity.
Assyrian refugees from the Christian villages of Northern Iran and Northern Iraq (Assyrians are the only indigenous people of Iraq) who survived entire village massacres by the Moslem Kurds and Turks, were permanently displaced and lost all their possessions but vowed to preserve their language and culture. California's Assyrian-Americans established strong humanitarian organizations in Central California to preserve culture, language and traditions, as well as assisting new refugees with assimilation into American society. Today’s Assyrian-Americans serve in Congress, are judges, doctors, lawyers, professors and value the American way of life, which embraces diverse heritages.
Each Fall, for the past six years, Presidio Dance Theatre has toured Central California and performed at the Assyrian-American Food & Culture Festival in Ceres and also has headlined the International Festival in Modesto. Between the two weekend events, tens of thousands of Assyrians and even more non-Assyrians have enjoyed the performances. The Assyrian-American organizations internationally broadcasted performances, reaching millions around the globe and throughout California.
Sherene Melania, who is an Assyrian-American international dance artist and choreographer, is Artistic Director for Presidio Dance Theatre. She is California's only ballerina and choreographer with an Assyrian heritage. She has studied the specific dance steps of the Assyrian's since childhood. She performed with Les Ballets Persans (which was a re-creation of the ballet repertoire during the Shah's reign) and was exposed to a number of artists, ethnic musicians, and choreographers from Iran and Iraq. She is most respectful of the culture.
Presidio Dance Theatre is sponsored by the Presidio Performing Arts Foundation's (PPAF) mission is identify, preserve and enhance rich dance, music, and theatre traditions in order to provide enrichment, education, and enjoyment to diverse audiences through presentation and production of international repertoire. PPAF strives for excellence in performance and education practice and has assumed a regional leadership role in performing arts.
Biography: Sherene Melania
Sherene Melania has had an extraordinary dance education. She has been fortunate to study under teachers who were direct pupils of Agrippina Vaganova (Ballet) and Igor Moiseyev (Character/Folk). She began her professional training at the age of eight with San Francisco Ballet School, (Helgi Tomasson, Director). At age 12, Ms. Melania continued her classical training at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. (Oleg Vinogradov, Director). She achieved the distinction to perform principal youth roles with both the San Francisco Ballet and Kirov Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre.
Her most influential ballet teachers include Gabriella Komleva (Kirov Ballet), Natalia Yannanis (Kirov Ballet), and Ludmilla Morkovina (Maly Theatre). Ms. Melania's coaches have included Genrietta Melnikova, choreographic assistant to legendary ballerina Natalya Dudinskaya, and Olga Likhovskaya, (Principal Artist of the Kirov Ballet). Her classical character teachers and coaches were Marina Abdulaeva and Elena Sherstnova, both principal character artists of the Kirov Ballet. Ms. Melania’s folk dance instructors were Vladimir Djouloukhadze (Bolshoi Ballet) and Vassilii Mountian (Moiseyev Dance Ensemble).
Ms. Melania accepted the invitation to study Ballet and Character Danse at the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory, the only American with this honor. She completed a two-year ballet apprenticeship, studying under Kirov Ballet Mistress Gabriella Komleva, while concurrently enrolled at the Saint Petersburg State Conservatory. She received a Certificate for Ballet Direction and Choreography from the prestigious Conservatory. Ms. Melania performed at various venues in Saint Petersburg, and also set choreography for the Young Leningradians and St. Petersburg Children's Ensemble. She has performed in Russia, France, Switzerland, Brazil, and the United States. She been featured on international television with Pars TV (Les Ballets Persans, based in Sweden); Rio Sol (Rio de Janiero, Brazil); Bet-Nahrain (AssyriaSat/Kbsv Channel 23) and San Francisco World TV.
Ms. Melania earned a B.A. Summa Cum Laude from the University of San Francisco majoring in Performing Arts and Social Justice. She performed as a member of the University of San Francisco Dance Ensemble for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Upon graduation, Ms. Melania was awarded the Dean's Medal for Excellence in the Arts University of San Francisco's most prestigious academic award. She is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit National Honor Society, National Collegiate Scholar, Who's Who in American Universities, and Who's Who in International Dance. She holds an International Baccalaureate Diploma with Honors for her fluency in English, French, and Russian.
Ms. Melania' s master teachers have instilled an appreciation for the purest form of classical ballet and the richly diverse world of folk dance traditions, from which she draws on to create a highly innovative approach to bridging eastern and western traditions of classicism and folklore. Her passion is inspirational to audiences, encouraging 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.
Sherene Melania is the grand-daughter of Melania Sherene George and the late Abram L. George, who were charter members of the Bet-Nahrain non-profit organization.
Biography: Judy George Bretschneider
Founder and President of the Presidio Performing Arts Foundation Executive Producer, Presidio Dance Theatre
Mrs. Bretschneider is an Assyrian-American. She holds a master's degree in developmental psychology and early childhood education and studied piano and music technique at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She has been a guest on local, national (60 Minutes, Hour Magazine; Phil Donahue, etc.) and international radio, television and was featured in a documentary by academy award winning producers for her research in the field. Judy was the first student to receive the City of San Francisco's Human Relations Award in 1969 (presented by Mayor Joseph Alioto) for outstanding achievement in the field of human relations. Creator of International Nations Day, a day to celebrate and learn about different ethnic groups within San Francisco.
Supporting performing arts groups and schools for enrichment opportunities, Mrs. Bretschneider is a community activist and fundraiser. After extensive travel in Russia, Germany, France, and the United States, studying highly regarded performing arts programs, Mrs. Bretschneider co-founded the PPAF in 1998. She has designed the award-winning DANCE OUT! program, matching college performing arts students with professional artists working together at underserved schools to teach and preserve cultural authenticity in dance productions.