Desert Dancer: Based on the True Story of Afshin Ghaffarian….
It has always been my belief that dancers do not dance because they want too…dancers dance because they have to. There is a deeper language of the soul, Martha Graham referred to as “blood memories”…it is something primal, raw, instinctual…This is what dancers tap into and use their bodies to speak that which cannot be spoken in words.
Nothing supports my theory more than Relativity production’s Desert Dancer. British director Richard Raymond’s directorial debut, with the script by Jon Croker and choreography by Akram Khan, is set in Iran. It is the true story of a dancer, Afshin Ghaffarian (Reece Richie) who with a group of young artists, rebel against the strict confines of the Iranian government in order to follow for their dreams.
Mr. Ghaffarian always had shown an interest in dance. He was punished in elementary school when his teacher walks in the classroom and discovers him dancing before the class. His movements are an awkward blend of Michel Jackson and Elvis Presley.
His mother worries for him and reminds him that he must always be cautious of the “morality” police. She told him that if he was to dance they must find a safe place and she helped her son gain access to a world of free thinking, pure expression…an art school…The Saba Art and Cultural Institute…here he found himself immersed a new world that would lead him to new ways and means of artistic expression.
Mr. Ghaffarian is shown a film of Nureyev’s last performance with the Kirov Ballet. He learns that while dancing with the Kirov, Nureyev felt artistically constricted, and sought freedom of artistic expression. Even though closely watched he was able to get past his keepers and in 1961 sought asylum in Paris.
When Mr. Ghaffarian gets to the University of Tehran he meets new friends that introduce him to unground dance clubs. All this takes place during the turbulent times of the “Iranian Green Movement” when protesters flooded the streets demanding the removal of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office. Green was used by his opponent Mir Hossein Mousavi‘s campaign, after the election it became the symbol of unity and hope for those seeking change.
This is when Mr. Ghaffarian convinces his friends, all knowing if they get caught they could go to prison, to create an underground dance group They are all untrained with more exuberance than know-how. They rehearse in an abandoned printing press, the property of a friend.
Dance is not necessarily “illegal” in the country but is seriously looked down on by the “morality police” who are not afraid to punish what they call immorality with fist, kicks and clubs.
A beautiful young woman, Elahah (Freida Pinto), over hears them talking in the university’s cafeteria and follows them to the abandoned building. The group is startled by her arrival and even more so when she ask to audition for the company.
She brings with her something Mr. Ghaffarian and the others are in great need of…dance training. Elehjah’s mother was a dancer with the pre-revolution Iranian National Ballet and had trained her when she was younger. Previously there training was limited to watching videos on YouTube.
It is here that we witness the brilliance of Akram Khan’s choreography. Elahah performs a solo of such haunting beauty. In her dancing you experience the raw pain of her existence, of her struggles and the trails of a woman in such a restrictive culture. Her body arcs in expressive turns of freedom and grace. She falls to her knees and hiding her face behind her hair she rocks side to side, her body keening in grief and despair. It was a beautiful powerful moment in the film.
When she first meets Mr. Ghaffarian she knows they are kindred spirits. She found in him the same exuberance for life, the same love for movement that she saw in her mother. She and Afshin, when dancing together have chemistry, nothing forced for their energies flowed naturally, organically.
When the company decides to take the risk and put on their first performance they knew it would be a risky endeavor. First they needed to find somewhere they could perform for a few select friends. Everyone’s safety is first and they need to be away from the prying eyes of the morality police.
They choose the desert, a place ringed by rocky edges. It is here that we witness Akham Khan’s artistry. He uniquely uses Indian kathak dance and merges it with contemporary movement.
They begin the dance lying in the sand; their bodies are partially covered. As Afshin slowly rises the sand falls off his body, freeing himself and silently shouting his resistance. The choreography is a voice of resistance, of determination and Afshin again and again forcefully shoves his hand down…his expression is one of determination, of deviance.
His college roommate is an actor and is part of an acting group that is meant to perform in Paris. He gives Afshin his passport and with a little help and alterations he is able to board the plane to Paris.
“Piercing Cry” (The Shout) | A Show Conceived and performed by Afshin Ghaffarian / La Compagnie Des Réformances
It is during the acting groups performance that he suddenly breaks free, exclaiming to the audience that he is a dancer, that he is not allowed to dance in Iran…he thens breaks into an emotional moment of movement that reflects what he has had to endure to dance, the beating, the fear, everything.
His keepers are furious and drop the curtain, they grab Afshin kicking and beating him for his deviance. When one of the keepers violent stands him up the keeper hits Afshin with such force that it sends him though the curtains in full view of the audience. Where the audience stands and cheers embracing him and his struggles.
Make sure to see Desert Dancer…you will not regret it…