DANCE ORIGIN: Silk Road, Central Asia GENRES: Classical, Folkloric, Contemporary ARTISTIC DIRECTOR:Sharlyn Sawyer ASSISTANT DIRECTOR: Miriam Peretz First Appearance in SF EDF:1986 Website: www.dancesilkroad.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.