Ballet Afsaneh Dances Central Asian Traditions

Ballet Afsaneh focuses its artistic practices on traditional classical and folk repertory from Central Asia.


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Ballet Afsaneh puts the focus on Central Asian classical and folk traditions.

Photo courtesy Ballet Afsaneh Art & Culture Society

Thanks to cellist YoYo Ma, we have become more familiar with the cultures of the Silk Roads that for centuries were the major highways between Europe and China. Now the Chinese are building their own East-to-West connection with major railroad and highway projects.

Less known may be that Eurasian multicultural exchanges already took place some 3,000 years ago between travelers, merchants, and government officials who went back and forth within the Persian Empire that stretched from the Balkans and Egypt to the Indus River and the Sea of Aral.

Today, Persia is mainly identified by Iran. However, the roots of Central Asian cultural practices, music and dance included, run deep. In the Bay Area Ballet Afsaneh (“fairy tales”) Art & Cultural Society, founded in 1986 by artistic director Sharlyn Sawyer, is focusing its artistic practices on traditional classical and folk repertory from Central Asia. The dances are most notable by precise but soft footwork, a fluid upper body supporting exquisitely floating and billowing arms.

Afsaneh’s repertoire includes choreographies on devotional practices, story telling, and community celebrations from Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, India, and China among others. One of the dances performed on the upcoming program is inspired the mountain regions of Tajikistan. Ancient rock carvings and century-old wall painting attest to a thriving Tajik dance and music culture. During the Soviet occupation, these indigenous practices were discouraged but have been revived since the country’s independence in 1991.

With student performances, the upcoming evening, directed by Natalie Nayun, will showcase the next generation of dancers. In the program’s second half, Ballet Afsaneh soloists will individually perform dances from different Central Asian regions. The evening also offers a free Persian dance class.

Ballet Afsaneh Showcase, Dec. 4, 8 p.m., Persian dance class, 7 p.m., Studio Azul, 2525, Eighth St. Suite 16, Berkeley, $5 at the door. 

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