A wine color silk fabric hanging on the back curtain with golden calligraphy of Omar Khayam’s poetry, hundreds of vines hanging from the ceiling all over the stage with a discrete lighting on each leaf and grape, candles surrounding the stage…Paradise on earth was the scenery of this Persian ballet called Omar Khayam presented at the majestic Palace of Fine Arts of San Francisco on September 12th 2009.
The choreographer and dancer Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam was the Iranian poet and philosopher Omar Khayam himself traveling through time and space, both physically and by the spirit expressed in his movements. But his presence on stage is beyond the limited world of words. The expression of his soul is a fusion of energies that transcends all categories of definition of a particular style of dance. Most people get impressed by his sufi like endless turns with his fast head turns, but what impresses me is his knowledge about Persian classical music and how he catches the rhythm so perfectly. He is one with the music and the universe. Shahrokh is an Iranian world class artist. Based in Paris, he is a choreographer and actor of the renowned Comédie Française . He created the dance company Nakissa more than 10 years ago, in Paris.
The dancers were also performing in this show. I could recognize Sahar Dehghan whom I have seen dance at many other occasions and recite Persian poetry. My husband and I are big fans of hers. He has seen her mostly perform sufi, mystical dance in Paris with Khaladj.I have seen her perform in London. In this scenery, she was a Persian miniature painting brought to life, a real Persian queen, particularly in the finale piece when she was dancing with Shahrokh, she was the “Saghi” bringing wine and drunkenness, actually she was drunkenness itself and Love as they posed together as lovers on the ground and while other dancers were feeding them grapes.
Throughout the ballet, especially in the first part, each poem, each quatrain of Omar Khayam was recited and the following scene was an artistic interpretation of the poem. The music was so perfectly chosen, recalling the poetry and all of its rhythm and emotions. Each dancer was a metaphor of the poem. The theme of the first part was the mystery of the universe, light and darkness, life and death, nature and creation. From the very beginning you could tell that these dancers are classically trained, especially Neysham who came on point shoes, one of the few Iranian Ballerinas today, and only 17, as they mentioned in the Q and A! The dancers were not just dancing together just for the sake of doing a synchronized choreography but they were metaphors of life playing together, different individual elements but yet so naturally connected in harmony. I really liked the duet with Sahar dancing in the middle with another dancer Ava turning around her, they had complete different styles and were interpreting different parts of the music, Sahar dressed in a turquoise and dark blue queen dress with wings engaging the entire theatre with a dramatic passionate presence and Ava more sufi like, with her long beautiful hair, turning around her, lifting us away and above, really enabling us to float and whirl with her… but yet they were so intertwined, they were one. Then followed Sahar’s solo, absolutely surreal, from another time and space, I cannot describe in words the thousand emotions I felt during her performance…and the music…you just had to be there! Another favorite scene of mine was Shahrokh dancing in slow motion like a bird opening its wings on the ground surrounded by the 4 dancers dressed in leaves. I asked them later what that piece was and they said it was the birth of an insect! That shows how sensitive Shahrokh is to the beauty of the most, simple things in Nature and how gracefully he can glorify it. It also interprets Omar Khayam’s poetry which often reminds us to appreciate the simple ephemeral beauty of nature and the Present.
The second part of the show was called “Purgatory” and was around the theme of death and violence. The choices of these Omar Khayam poems for this section were very sensitive to the human rights issues concerning Iran today. All four dancers came dressed in black holding candles and were shot one by one and fell dead to the ground. Then Shahrokh came dressed in red…Blood? Violence?…or Love and Hope? What stroke me the most in this section was another dancer named Christina. To me she had one of the most expressive faces, particularly her eyes where I could see all the tragedy of this piece. Apparently she is not Iranian but Armenian, yet she made feel like she understood all the pain in us. Armenians also went through a lot with the genocide, exil…Christina is the artistic director of a world class Armenian dance company called Yeraz in Paris. At the end of this piece all the dancers were gracefully revived, perhaps now in heaven and started whirling with the candles around Shahrokh. It was peacefully hopeful…
The third part of the show was a series of more joyful scenes of love, grace and the concept of Carpe Diem. Neysham started it innocently playful, a joy to watch. Then Ava, Christina and Sahar. Ava and Christina had a very interesting duet that was actually quite amusing, although it woke me up from the dream world that I had entered. Shahrokh was present in all scenes, always taking my breath away with his high energetic movements that seem effortless, his absolute grace more delicate that most women dancers I have seen, and his constant accurate tuning with the music. His masterpiece, as far as the music is concerned, was in this 3rd part: a scene with all the dancers present. Shahrokh was dancing in front to the vocals, Sahar was turning around him to the Kamancheh instrument, Ava was in the back doing the footsteps of the Santur and Christina and Neysham were the other instruments. It was like a full orchestra of dancers, perfectly one with the music. The last part as I mentioned above, was the love scene of Shahrokh and Sahar, my favorite! The most credible lovers I have ever seen and with the other dancers behind them also loving and all in harmony with each other, a true Paradise on earth, so inspiring and hopeful. A crowd of more than a thousand gave a long standing ovation, many with tears in their eyes. We all need to be emerged in this kind of art world for a breath of fresh air once in a while, to appreciate what we have especially freedom, to observe Nature’s beauty, to get inspired to love, make peace and BE! Thank you.