The Suni Project: Music Preservation

Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876-1939)

1723 Wells | Ann Arbor, MI 48104-3601 USA | (734) 996-1949 |

Seda Suny

(1905 Tiflis-1994 New York)
Dancer, Choreographer, Ballet Teacher, Musician, and Daughter of Armenian Composer Grikor Mirzaian Suni (1876 Getabek-1939 Philadelphia).

Seda Suny was a lively participant in Armenian cultural life, singing and dancing at her father’s concerts and her own. A well-known dance teacher, also a pianist and costume-maker, she created her own ballet school in New York, and generously trained many artists, to the end of her long life. Pianist-composer Serge Suny is her son.



Seda Suny: 1986 Voice of America Interview and Recital in Armenia, CD Recording, 53 minutes

NPR Program 2010: Grikor Mirzaian Suni’s Daughter Seda Suny was among her many talents a ballet teacher who taught the now famous dancer and choreographer Jacques d’Amboise. Jacques d’Amboise (b. 1934) speaks of her with appreciation in this NPR interview by Scott Simon, Saturday November 27, 2010.

Seda Suny: 1986 Voice of America Interview and Recital in Armenian, CD recording, 53 minutes

Translated by her student, Dr. Jeannette Hovsepian Frenster, August 2002

Seda Suny sings 7 Armenian songs, including two of her father’s. Then she sings 9 Russian songs. She accompanies herself at the piano.

Listen to Seda’s “Voice Of America” interview online >>

Please click on the image to view an enlarged PDF.

Interview in Armenian

  1. Interviewer introduces Seda Suny and asks her to talk about her ballet school.
  2. Seda Suny speaks of her dance career. Gladly. Officially, I opened my ballet school in New York in the year 1928, but from a young age I loved to teach dancing. Even before going to ballet school, I used to gather all the children from our (neighborhood) [in Tiflis] and I taught them group dancing. Of course, I was the soloist among them. Later, when Srpoohie Lisitsian admitted me to her school, I used to help her in every class. When I was nine years old, whenever she was ill or unable to teach them, she would hand over to me the 4 to 6 year olds. I conducted their classes by myself. Srpoohie Lisitsian played an important role in my early (dancing career) and I shall never forget all she did for me. I decided to do the same thing in my school. Whenever I saw talented students, in addition to giving them free lessons, I also worked in every way to encourage and help them. In 42 years, thousands of students passed through my hands Among them were many famous dancers, for example: Levon Danielian, Viola Essen, Jacques D’Ambois, Susan Casey, Burton Taylor, and others.
  3. Interviewer asks about her singing.
  4. Seda Suny tells of her education. In 1914, when World War I broke out, we were in Erzurum. Our family returned to Tiflis and my father decided that at least one of the children should have an Armenian education. That one was myself. They sent me to Gayanian School where all the children made fun of me and called me (‘khossos’) because I spoke
    Turkish-Armenian. As much as I explained that I was born in Tiflis, it didn’t help until the music class, when Azad Manoogian noticed that I had a good ear. He asked, ‘What is your name, little one?’ When he heard my name, oh what hugs and kisses! ‘Oh, dear little Seda, is it you? When you were a very tiny girl I always took you out to the park.’ That saved me, and from that day on my honor increased. Azad Manoogian was the children’s best-loved teacher. He was a wonderful instructor and taught musical theory and solfeggio using Armenian folk songs. I grew up with those Armenian songs. Of course, I was his favorite pupil. At home, no one paid attention to me, but at school, both teachers and students all complimented me and called me (‘the future actress’).
  5. Interviewer asks her to talk about her memories she associated with her father and her impressions of him.
  6. Seda Suny tells of Grikor Mirzaian Suni’s music and politics. My father was born in 1876 in Getabek village, but his childhood was spent in the city of Shushi. He graduated from the Gevorkian Jemaran (academy, college), and the St. Petersburg Conservatory under Rimsky Korsakov and Glazunov. But my father’s love was the Armenian song, and most of his composition was Armenian music. I remember every summer he would travel from village to village, paper and pencil in hand. He would sit with the villagers and ask them to sing, and in that way he collected the folk songs, which he later transcribed.We were eight children and all of us were afraid of him. He was either giving classes, conducting rehearsals, composing, or sleeping because he had been working all night until dawn on his compositions. Eight children in one house and
    we couldn’t make any noise in order not to disturb him. When Papa wasn’t home we all rejoiced, with loud laughing, running, playing. As soon as we heard his foot- steps though, we all turned into lambs. My father was a revolutionary and participated in the movement. In 1908 the gendarmes surrounded our house to seize him but he was able to escape, and later we learned he was in Trebizond [Trabzon, Trapizon]. Soon afterwards we followed him. Wherever he went, he would immediately form a choral group, and I and my sister [Siran] always participated in the chorus from a young age. I recall that in Tiflis our house was a musical center. [Sadalian], Ghazarian, Mirzaian, Mazmanian, Abrahamian, Barkhudarian, [Pushnario], Spiridon Melikian, Anoushavan Ter-Ghevondian’.they were either my father’s students or friends. In 1919, he went to Persia without the family, and in 1921 the family was reunited in Constantinople. In 1923 we all moved to America. In all the major American cities, he established Suni choral groups and gave concerts until the end of his life, December 18, 1939.
  7. Interviewer asks her about her visit to Armenia.
  8. Seda Suny tells of Armenia’s ballet school. In 1967, I visited Soviet Armenia. I took my father’s manuscripts with me and donated them to Armenia’s museum. After that, for two weeks I attended the Yerevan Opera ballet rehearsals and visited the ballet school. It was the time of the school examinations, and I was asked to participate in the evaluations. It must be said that the ballet school in Soviet Armenia is very highly respected. I wish we in America had schools like this. The teachers don’t miss a thing. They pay attention to every little mistake, and because of that, they are able to attract the best dancers. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much appreciation among the populace. Very few people attended the performance on ballet days, but the Altoonian Armenian Dance Group Theater was filled. Yerevan is a very beautiful city and brings us all honor.
  9. Interviewer asks Seda Suny to sing folk songs.
  10. Seda Suny introduces 7 Armenian folk songs. The 1st and 3rd, Sareri Hovin Mernim, and Nenni Bala, are songs of her father.
    Seda Suny sings 7 Armenian songs, accompanying herself at the piano
  11. Sareri Hovin Mernim (For the Mountain Breeze I’d Die) by Grikor Mirzaian Suni, from his “Aregnazan” opera 2:40
  12. Siretsi Yarus Daran (I Loved but’) 2:59
  13. Nenni Bala (Sleep My Child) by Grikor Mirzaian Suni 1:55
  14. Aghji Horom (A Girl Named Horom) 2:02
  15. Yes Bujoor Yarus Bujoor (I’m Little and My Sweetheart’s Little)- yev (and) Dule Yaman (Dear Heart, Alas) 3:51
  16. Kez Em Mnoom Anoush Karoon (I’m Waiting for You Sweet Spring) 3:30
  17. Yerevan Bagh Em Arel (My Yerevan Orchard) 2:06
  18. Interviewer’s end: “It’s unbelievable” :12
    Seda Suny sings 9 Russian romance songs
  19. Myechda (Dream) 3:04
  20. Daska, Byechal (Suffering) 2:17
  21. Trivoka (Missing You) 2:33
  22. Sokol Prikrasni (Handsome Hawk) 2:45
  23. Pomnish Taganka (Do you remember Taganka?) 3:05
  24. Vsyo Shto Bila (All that’s Happened) 2:38
  25. Choovchik (Curly Bangs) 2:08
  26. Tyeni Minoovshego (Forgive Me) 3:05
  27. Proshchai (Farewell) 2:54

Seda Suny and brother, Gourgen (George) Suny.


The Story Of Ballet, Danced By ‘Apollo’s Angels’

NPR Program 2010: Grikor Mirzaian Suni’s daughter Seda Suny was among her many talents a ballet teacher who taught the now famous dancer and choreographer Jacques d’Amboise. Jacques d’Amboise (b. 1934) speaks of her with appreciation in this NPR interview by Scott Simon November 27, 2010.

The Story Of Ballet, Danced By ‘Apollo’s Angels’

by NPR Staff

November 27, 2010

Listen to the Story

Ballet is a storytelling art that has no written language. It is classical and modern, intellectual and emotional, athletic and cerebral, and, for many, the embodiment of joy in movement. Host Scott Simon speaks with Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet. The two are also joined by Jacques d’ Amboise, a long-time principal dancer for the New York City Ballet.

Copyright © 2010 National Public Radio®. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


Ballet is a storytelling art that has no written language. It is both classical and modern, intellectual and emotional, athletic and cerebral, an art for kings, an entertainment for peasants, and for many the simple embodiment of joy in movement.

Jennifer Homans has a history of that art that’s often hard to define, but irreplaceable in the heart, “Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet.” And with “The Nutcracker” season upon us, Jennifer Homans joins us from New York.

She’s danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Chicago Lyric Opera Ballet among others, also earned a PhD in Modern European History at New York University, and now writes about dance for the New Republic, and is also Scholar in Residence at NYU.

Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. JENNIFER HOMANS (Ballet Dancer, Historian): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And joining us in our studios here, just one of the great dancers in history, Jacques d’Amboise, who was principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, founder of the National Dance Institute, a McArthur Fellow, and a Kennedy Center honors recipient.

Thanks so much for being with us, Jacques.

Mr. JACQUES D’AMBOISE (Ballet Dancer, Choreographer): My joy. My joy.

SIMON: Jennifer Homans, let’s begin with you. As you know, classical Greeks didn’t have ballet, but you see Apollo as a kind of symbol for ballet.

Ms. HOMANS: That’s right. Apollo is a symbol for ballet because dancers over the ages have looked back to the Greeks, even though the Greeks themselves did not, of course, perform ballet, which has its origins in the European courts of the Renaissance in the 17th century. But the idea of Apollo as a perfectly proportioned beautiful human figure is something that’s inspired people for ages. So, you know, Apollo is a recurrent theme throughout the history. Louis XIV, when he was performing at his height, often liked to portray Apollo. And he would dress in great plumes and Greek or Roman dress and he would perform the “Sun King,” which gave him his own identity and showed his own power in court in France in the 17th century. So the idea of Apollo through the ages has been very, very powerful.

SIMON: You trace the origins of ballet to the French court.

Ms. HOMANS: Yes. The French Court is where ballet was first codified. There were shadows of it before and it was a social dance evolving, but it was only in the French court of Louis XIV that the positions were first given their names and that they were first actually written down in this case, and we still do have some of those drawings and writings.

SIMON: Jacques d’Amboise, so the story about you has always been New York City street kid, seven years old, your parents send you to a – was it your sister’s dance school, to keep you out of the clutches of gangs?

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Yes. ‘Cause if she left me on the stoop, I’d be with…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D’AMBOISE: …Washington Heights and – but that’s was pretty terrific. The teacher was Madame Seda, who was a kind of Armenian giant of a human being, a Gypsy woman with red and black and drama and passion, and she got me into it. And then at the end of maybe, I guess, 16 lessons, summer came and my mother said to Madame Seda, Madame, save a place for my children – my sister Ninette and me, right – save a place for them. We’ll be back in the fall. And Madame Seda said no, ma’am. Madame, there is no place for your children here. And, of course, my mother almost fell over with Sarah Bernhardt drama, right. And then she handed my mother a piece of paper and it said School of American Ballet, George Balanchine, and she said there are better teachers than I am.

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Take them here. Isn’t that terrific? She gave up her only boy, and my sister was the best in the class.

SIMON: Oh my gosh.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Yeah. And then I was performing right away, at eight years old. Balanchine was doing a little thing for some rich man’s party in the summer and I was Puck in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and I got 10 bucks. So that’s very seductive.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Especially, by the way, Scott…

SIMON: Yeah?

Mr. D’AMBOISE: My father’s salary was $35 a week.

SIMON: Oh my, yeah.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Bringing up four children. There were four of us. It was…

Ms. HOMANS: It’s such an interesting example to me because, you know, Jacques was an American kid and he came into this world, it was really this little Russia right there in the middle of Manhattan.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. HOMANS: I mean these teachers were all born in the Imperial Court in St. Petersburg…

Mr. D’AMBOISE: And great.

Ms. HOMANS: …and then this meeting of these two forces, right there. That’s one of the things that made such tremendous ballet.

SIMON: The great Jacques d’Amboise. A question about the Russians in ballet, Jennifer Homans. How did it happen that this art of the czars, if you please, became a kind of important icon during the Cold War?

Ms. HOMANS: You know, that’s one of the most fascinating stories that I encountered. As you say, I mean an artform which was very much in the court and the epitome of the courts – reminds me, there was a great Russian ballerina who was also the mistress of Nicholas II. You know, this is how closely knit this artform was with the court in people’s eyes. And so when the Revolution came, it seemed logical that the whole thing would be torn down and gotten rid of, because why would they want to have that if they were going to build a worker’s state? Lenin was very skeptical.

But you know, there were people who loved the ballet and who really believed that the culture could be transformed. And so it was preserved. And the classical ballets were actually preserved as well. And that transition, though, that you are talking about, between just preserving them and actually making up the centerpiece of the Soviet state, I think happened through this idea of the ideal. And this is all there in the Soviet ideology: You’re working, you’re building, you’re going to reach the paradise. It’s not that different from “Swan Lake” and other ballets that are always fighting for an ideal. So I think that transition in fact took place, even though it seems very unlikely.

SIMON: And let me get you both to talk about George Balanchine your (unintelligible) sense, godfather.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: I was lucky to be in his hands when I was eight.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: And then I performed with Ballet Society, which was a precursor to New York City Ballet. And then when I was just turned 15, in July, I come after my 15th birthday in September and Balanchine – would you like to join New York City Ballet? I had had one year of high school, so I quit high school and went right away and within less than a year we were dancing in the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and Balanchine was giving me lessons: If we do have tea with the queen, this is the way you drink tea. Diaghilev showed me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D’AMBOISE: So there was more passed down in the tradition than just a first position in plie. There was how you drink tea with the queen.

SIMON: Well, that’s important. Yeah, that’s important.

You say that ballet is built around the universality of the human gesture.

Ms. HOMANS: You know, there are two sides to ballet. They are the steps and the formal aspect of it, the positions, the movements, and then there’s also a side of it which is move towards pantomime. So dancers over the history of ballet have always pulled from both. They’ve pulled from this more abstract art, which had very much to do with classical rules of symmetry and restraint and nobility. And then they were also drawing from a tradition of pantomime, which focused on gesture and expression and the ways in which movement can tell a story.

SIMON: Wonder what you think about that, Jacques?

Mr. D’AMBOISE: I think that ballet is an artform that is aerial. It’s the art of the aerial. It’s off the earth. It’s off the ordinary. It’s the extraordinary. And it’s not about, oh, I’m getting a divorce and my heart is broken and – it has to do with making better what human beings are. It’s the art of betterment.

SIMON: Yeah.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: And somehow or other it doesn’t matter, the choreography. The scenery can move, it’s moving – how the body moves beautifully an elegantly to express an motion.

Ms. HOMANS: Yes. Absolutely. You know, I mean the things that Jacques is saying are, they’re very true to the origins of the art as well. I mean that’s what I meant by angels in the title, because ballet has always been an artform that has tried to lift people up out of the more bestial or physical side – it’s a real paradox – and into a sort of more elevated and spiritual way, but it does it through the body. It’s quite extraordinary. The idea is to lift yourself one notch up towards God, towards the angels and God.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Jenny, Scott, when we’d finish sometimes a pas de deux and Balanchine would come backstage all excited, either Allegra(ph) or Suzanne(ph) or Diana or somebody, Kay(ph), I was dancing with, and he would come all -right, curtain is closed, we’ve done our bows, and he would say, you know, you are in ionosphere.

Ms. HOMANS: Exactly.

SIMON: That’s beautiful. The great Jacques d’Amboise, former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet, and Jennifer Homans. Her new book “Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet.” Thank you both very much for being with us.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Hey, Scott, love being here.

Ms. HOMANS: Thank you.

Mr. D’AMBOISE: Thank you.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I’m Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2010 National Public Radio®. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR’s prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.