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Interview with Banafsheh Sayyad
Photos: André Elbing
What is your Contemporary Persian Dance Art composed of?

What I am doing is my style. So you can’t really say that is a style that everybody does, although it is practised by some now. It is a combination of movement that is very strong and movement that is very soft. Normally in classical Persian dance everything is soft. Everything is in fluid and it’s all the spirit, the spirit is dancing. But with me and my dance there is also the influence of Flamenco and the influence of strong feminine, and I want to have the combination of the soft and the very earthy. My foot is on the ground. Sometimes in the classical Persian dance it is all about going up. But I don’t believe that there is a going up without a going down. So I combine them.

Please tell us more about strong women and contemporary dance.

For me dance is a socio-political thing also. Not just in Iran but in all Middle East women are strong at home. In public they have to be quiet, they have to be covered, they have to censor themselves, they are suppressed. Obviously I don’t believe in that, but I believe in that we can be different if we want to, we can be strong, we can be creative, and we can express ourselves. So to do what I do is an invitation not only to the women in the Middle East but everywhere: Come on what is it that you want to be? Be it, just be it! And it also goes to the men, saying: This is your life, be what you want to be. Don’t wait! Nobody else is going to do it for you.

Rumi says: “You light your own fire.”

Please tell us something more about Rumi.

Rumi is a 13th century poet who lived in Turkey. He is very popular at least in America, I don’t know about him being well known in Germany, but in the US he is a bestselling poet. There are a lot of English translations. The whirling Dervishes are followers of him. His teachings are very ancient mysticism. You can look him up in the internet, but you will find too much about him. There must be German translations as well. When you can speak English, you should read him in English. You can read the translations of Andrew Harvey or of Coleman Barks.

Where do you live now?

Here. Everywhere. (laughs) Normally in Los Angeles. I go to the Middle East, to Turkey. But I don’t go to the Iran. The Secret Service there let me know that it would be no good idea to come over to the Iran. My father is an author and theatre director and very famous in Iran, Afghanistan, Tadzhikisthan, and he is very much against the current Mullah government. My father speaks against them, writes plays against them. So it’s not safe for me to go there. Also they don’t like dancing there. A dancer who went to the Iran was put into jail.

Do you reach Iranian women?

Oh yes, I reach them, I do. First of al there’s internet. And there is satellite TV. I get lots of e-mails. And there are also many Iranian women who don’t live in the Iran. For example in Los Angeles there live about 600.000 Iranians, and some more in California and even more in the whole US. This night many Iranians came to my show.

But my aim is not only Iranian women. I go to Turkey a lot. And there in Turkey the situation of the women is exactly the same, even though they are more free there. But they don’t know how to express themselves, they don’t know how to be free. But let’s talk about dance. There is the Dervish movement where everybody is very covered and the woman is like the man, everybody is the same and everybody is neutral. And there is the Turkish belly dance movement. The Turkish belly dance is very liberal in terms of clothing. But I reach them in the middle. I tell them now you can be sensual, now you can be yourself, but you don’t have to be this religious or to open, you can just be in the middle.

Are there any Western influences in your art, other than Flamenco?

I love all sorts of really good music. I’m not that attached to Middle Eastern music. When I was a teenager I was very much interested in classical music. Maybe because all of my friends were listening to this crazy rock music. I didn’t like it, and so I was more into modern classical music. The 20th century modern classical music.

You’re talking about Stockhausen?

Strawinski, Schönberg, Alban Berg. I actually lived in Vienna and I went to all these concerts where they played contemporary classical music. And that was nice, really nice. I’m just very interested in music that’s beautiful and from the heart and free and when it has this daring to be just yourself in it. Music is very divine, this is obvious, it touches us so immediately in our heart. Music goes right into our soul.