York dance talent takes centre stage at Harbourfront

York dance talent takes centre stage this weekend when the Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre presents the Canadian premiere of Distances, Consonance and Diversity, From Persia to Turkistan at Harbourfront Centre on Saturday, July 16, at 7pm with a repeat performance on Sunday, July 17, at 5pm.

The performances will spotlight the dance company’s founder, Sashar Zarif (right), a graduate student and instructor in York’s Dance Department. Joining him on stage will be some of the students from the course “Introduction to World Dance Practices” that he teaches at York. They include third-year dance majors Shirin Yousefi, Ivana Matovina and Heather Ball, as well as third-year arts student Natalie King, who is pursuing a double major in anthropology and dance, and fourth-year arts student Tamiza Jetha, who is doing a major in psychology and a minor in dance. They will be accompanied by musician Pirouz Yousefian.

“It’s been wonderful working with these students because they have an open and pure artistic heart, so dedicated to the art form,” said Zarif. “They also function very well as a dance unit and have immersed themselves into the cultural side of the dance.”

The presentations feature a blend of ritualistic and traditional dance forms inspired by the Caucasus mountains and the desert nomads of central Asia, as well as the dance styles of classical Persia, Azerbaijan, Daghistan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. The performances will be accompanied by music on the santour and tombak.

Since traditional eastern performing arts are integrated and interdependent, most of the artists are multidisciplinary. “You sing and play for your dance, design the costume, and read the poetry for inspiration and understanding of the concept and the philosophy of the art form,” explained Zarif.

Left: A scene from one of the dances performed by Zarif with York students

Inspired by a strong artistic family background, Sashar Zarif is a multidisciplinary artist whose studies include Indian, Uzbek, Tadjeek, Afghan and Persian classical dance. He received his formal training at the Azerbaijan Conservatory of Music and Dance, where he was awarded the honorary title of “Artist for People of Azerbaijan”. Based in Toronto, he and his company tour extensively throughout North America, Europe and Azerbaijan. The founder of Dancers for Peace, Zarif serves on the dance committee of the Toronto Arts Council and the board of directors of Dance Ontario.

Zarif’s recent achievements include the staging of a dance reconstruction of the mystical art of Mugham in Baku, Azerbaijan. Under the mentorship of UNESCO music award-winner Alim Qasimov and his ensemble, this project, which was acclaimed as a milestone in Azerbaijani dance tradition, will tour throughout Europe in 2005-2006.

Right: Clockwise from top, York dance students Shirin Yousefi; Natalie King and Tamiza Jetha

Zarif and his students have been working intensively together. On Sept. 23, they will present vajd: symphony of east, a dance performance based on the poetry of 14th-century Persian Sufi poet Hafiz, with music by composer Michael Purves-Smith of Wilfrid Laurier University. A fusion of classical eastern and western music, the performance will be held at the Isabel Bader Theatre, 140 Charles St. West, Toronto.

The Harbourfront shows take place in the Studio Theatre located at York Quay Centre. Admission is free. For more information, visit the Harbourfront Centre Web site, click on Summer Festivals and select All Over the Map: A Feast of Global Sounds, for the Music & Dance performances, or visit the Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre Web site.

This article was submitted to YFile by Mary-Lou Schagena in the Faculty of Fine Arts.