World Arts West
SF Ethnic Dance Festival


Ballet Afsaneh

DANCE ORIGIN: Silk Road, Central Asia
GENRES: Classical, Folkloric, Contemporary
Miriam Peretz
First Appearance in SF EDF:

Ballet Afsaneh, performance ensemble of the Bay Area nonprofit Afsaneh Art & Culture Society, was founded in 1986 by Artistic Director Sharlyn Sawyer. Miriam Peretz is assistant director/choreographer. The group represents Iranian American and Afghan communities in the diaspora, and diverse cultures of the historic Silk Road. They are known for award-winning and critically-acclaimed performances of dance, poetry, and music—from lyrical fairytale to thought provoking contemporary work—throughout the U.S. and beyond.


AfsanehTITLE: Roya (The Dream)
GENRES: Nouveau Classical, Folkloric
CHOREOGRAPHERS: Miriam Peretz, Sharlyn Sawyer
DANCERS: Claire Ajideh, Farima Berenji, Emelie K. Coleman, Mariam Gaibova, Nina Gonzales-Silas, Rachel Greer, Juliana Hebenstreit, Sage LaCroix, Masha Loukianenko, Lina Nazar, Miriam Peretz, Lucia Riera, Hannah Romanowsky, Leila Sadeghi, Kristen Sague, Roz Samimi, Chantal Schoenherz, Marta Serra Marti, Manami Takashina, Lisa Tilton, Carolyn Uno, Parousha Zand
Sonja Drakulich (vocals), Mehran Ebrahimi (daf, dahol), Mohammad Ebrahimi (doumbek, sorna), Neema Hekmat (santur), Pourya Khademi (violin), Moses Sedler (cello)

Rest yourselves, while I tell you a story about our people . . .

Roya−The Dream, is a celebration of Persian dance. The performance begins with Qashqa’i—a traditional dance of celebration from the nomadic Turkic Qashqa’i of Southwestern Iran. The essence of this dance is participation: it is a unified dance with simple steps. One of the women begins to tell an Afsaneh, a familiar and beloved legend from ancient times, a shared dream-like reverie. In a Persian art dance/nouveau classical choreography, a scarf becomes the wind-lofted dome of the heavens, and candle flames recall Zoroastrianism’s eternal fire. Magical figures appear, with fairy-like pari, soloist Mariam Gaibova performs the dance of the peacock−Raqse Tavus, and Miriam Peretz performs a solo to haunting music, “Chahar Mezrab”. The Afsaneh story is centuries old, but the dance genre originated in Iran in the 1960s, inspired by images and iconography from Persian decorative art, medieval paintings, and classical literature.

The dancers’ colorful skirts are everyday Qashqa’i wear: they liven up Iran’s landscape as women herd animals and perform daily tasks. For Qashqa’i, a strident sorna horn and dahol bass drum chase away malevolent forces: with a volume set for Qashqa’i outdoor celebrations. The Afsaneh section is danced to delicate and ethereal music from Persian classical tradition, hundreds of years old.

For this performance, Roya−The Dream comes full circle. In 1994, the Festival commissioned a work from Ballet Afsaneh showing the full diversity of dance in the Bay Area Iranian American diaspora communities. The stunning suite has since traveled the world as a jewel in Ballet Afsaneh’s repertoire, ever-evolving in collaboration with dancers, ethnographers, musicians, and members of the Persian and Central Asian community in the U.S. and Central Asia.


Title: Parwaz (Fly Free)
Miriam Peretz, Sharlyn Sawyer
Farima Berenji, Emelie Karen Coleman,
Shideh Dashti, Ayesha Anne Hasan, Lina Nazar,
Miriam Peretz, Rebecca Prather, Jade Rabyn, Nooshin Razani, Hannah Romanowsky,
Leila Sadeghi, Kristen Sague, Roz Samimi, Kirra Swenerton, Lisa Tilton, Carolyn Uno, Parousha Zand
Salar Nader (tabla/dahol), Homayun Sakhi (rubab)  

Ballet Afsaneh honors the beauty and dignity of Afghan culture in this uplifting suite of Afghan dances. This presentation also celebrates the strength of Afghan women. A sampling of women’s dances for happy occasions, the suite finishes with the national dance: Attan. The performance is unusual, as Afghan dance is rarely staged for theater, and women rarely perform dance publicly in these conservative times. The choreography incorporates vocabulary representing the diversity of the Afghan people, with elements from Pahstun, Tajik, Hazzara, Uzbek, and various nomadic groups. The ending Attan also includes some turns and athletic movements more often reserved for men.  

Because Afghanistan has long been situated at the crossroads of empires, its music and dance is interwoven with elements from many regions and peoples of Eurasia—from Persian, Indian, Greek, Chinese, Arabic, and Turkic travelers along the Silk Road. Now, from valley to valley, the art and dance forms of Afghanistan are as diverse as its people.

Some movements are related to devotional whirling dances of southwest and central Asia, where dance and music evoke a state of “mast” or spiritual intoxication. Attan, a popular dance at community gatherings, sometimes includes dance circles of more than a hundred people. Some styles use clapping; others use scarves to accentuate spins; others reverse direction while spinning. Various forms of this dance were originally developed as Pashtun tribal war dances.

The embroidered dresses, some weighing up to thirty-five pounds, represent designs from many regions of Afghanistan. The style is everyday wear for rural nomadic (kuchi) groups, but those most heavily decorated are worn for special occasions. Embroidered, mirrored, and beaded motifs honor nature and give protection from malignant forces.

Afghan music shares links to Iran, North India, Pakistan, and other Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. In this performance, Kabul-born Homayun Sakhi, outstanding Afghan rubâb player of his generation, plays the twelve-stringed, lute-like rubâb. Salar Nader plays tabla. Salar is a disciple of world-renowned tabla master Zakir Hussein.


TITLE OF PIECE: Safar-e Zamaan (Time’s Journey)
DANCE ORIGIN: Tajikistan
GENRE: Traditional (Kolyabi & Badakshani)
Sharlyn Swayer, Aliah Najmabadi
DANCERS: Renata Andrade, Wan-Chao Chang, Viviana Diaz, Jessica Ezra, Sahar Hojat, Jade Itiene, Claire Kimmel, Liza Matlack, Shadan Mirabedi, Aliah Najmabadi, Tara Pandeya, Miriam Peretz, Rosa, Rojas, Hannah Romanovsky, Parousha Zand

The smallest nation in Central Asia, Tajikistan is a rugged landlocked country spread with vast steppes sheltered by snow-covered mountains looming 10,000 feet above sea level. The name “Tajik” comes from the word taj, meaning “crown” and refers to the crests of the Pamir mountain range that dominates the southeastern portion of the country. Continuously inhabited since 4,000 BCE, Tajikistan has been ruled by various empires, most dominantly the Persian Empire, and later the Russian Empire.

Evidence of Tajik performing arts is found on ancient rock petroglyphs and medieval wall paintings. Due to its geographic location along the Silk Road, Tajikistan performing arts have had a myriad of influences and in turn have influenced other dance traditions from the Mediterranean to South Asia. Some consider the Silk Road as the precursor to globalization – a phenomenon as influential as the Internet for transmitting culture and ideas.

Dance in the mountain regions of Tajikistan retains a vital link with spirituality. Danced at births, weddings, funerals and seasonal holidays such as spring, harvest, equinox and the New Year, dances are connected to domestic life and religious rituals. Many movements refer to forces of nature and the geometric iconography of the cosmos. Since Tajikistan’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Tajik heritage is actively being reclaimed through the performing arts. One outcome of this process is the Tajik Dance Initiative, an ongoing cultural exchange program between Ballet Afsaneh and local Tajik artists and scholars to preserve and develop the performing arts in the remote Pamir Mountain region.

Ballet Afsaneh’s dance Safar-e Zamaan – Time’s Journey, evolved directly out of the Tajik Dance Initiative. Synthesizing traditional and contemporary elements, the dance derives inspiration from the Kolyabi and Badakshani, two distinct tribes living on either side of the Pamir Mountains. The robust Kolyabi dancers are depicted in bold red costumes embroidered with iconographic motifs, while the sublime Pamiri dancers are dressed in white to evoke the purity of the snow-covered mountainous peaks – a symbol of the human spirit reaching towards the heavens. Safar-e Zamaan pays tribute to the dynamic creativity and spiritual heritage that has enabled Tajik dance to meet the challenges of changing times.

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