York dance alumnus explores his own choreography of migration

Toronto’s longest running contemporary dance series DanceWorks is presenting Choreographies of Migration by Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre. The program, which premiered yesterday, continues through March 8 and features York University dance alumnus Sashar Zarif (MA ‘07). An internationally acclaimed Azerbaijani-Iranian artist, Zarif, together with other dancers, explores a series of migrations and cultural adaptations that ultimately led to his life in Canada. Zarif’s presentation features two solos, a trio and a quartet performed by a company of seasoned dance artists. The production runs nightly at Enwave Theatre as part of Harbourfront Centre’s NextSteps Series.

Right: Sashar Zarif

Through this quartet of works, Zarif presents a very personal vernacular. From a pastiche of languages, cultures and movement, he creates a unique contemporary style and a fresh way of communicating using traditional Central Asian, Near Eastern and Western dance forms.

Zarif’s sense of displacement underlies Choreographies of Migration. Born into an immigrant family in Tehran, moving through India, Turkey and other countries, before arriving in Canada, he examines the various and often complicated relationships that inform ideas of home, identity and self. Each piece represents a different period of awareness and growth in his journey from Iran to Canada; each borrows from different stops in his physical and spiritual odyssey that saw him survive revolution, war and refugee camps.

Right: Susan Cash

In The Letters of My Name, Zarif uses 38 letters that spell his full name in three languages (Arabic, Persian, Azerbaijani) and the piece draws on his memories of his early life in Iran as well as his time in refugee camps. Originally commissioned by Dance Ontario, this solo is performed by Zarif and is co-choreographed with Holly Small (BFA ’77) featuring music by John Oswald and dramaturgy by Soheil Parsa (BA ‘89). It was the winner of the 2006 Paula Citron Award at the Toronto International Dance Festival (formerly fFIDA). In granting the award, Citron said, "Only wisdom and knowledge of life could have produced this powerful work."

Right: Holly Small

The compelling trio Wait conjures memories of Zarif’s childhood and a love of movement and dance passed on from his grandmother. Choreographed by Zarif, Wait is performed by dance artists Jennifer Bolt (MA ‘01), York faculty member Keiko Kitano and Robyn Alfonso (BFA ‘07).

The third and fourth segments, Anar and Life is the Feeling of a Migrating Bird are both world premieres choreographed by Zarif. Created in honour of his 16-year-old cousin who was executed in Iran, Anar is a quartet performed by York University professors Holly Small, Carol Anderson, Susan Cash and Terrill Maguire. Life is the Feeling of a Migrating Bird is an autobiographical solo performed by Zarif to live music performed by celebrated musician Anne Bourne on cello and vocals (heard also in Atom Egoyan’s film The Sweet Hereafter). The final work of the evening, it is the summation of his migratory experience.

Right: Carol Anderson

Choreographies of Migration from Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre continues tonight and tomorrow night at 8pm, at Harbourfront Centre’s Enwave Theatre, 231 Queens Quay West, Toronto. Admission is $27, $17 for students and seniors. For tickets, visit the Harbourfront Centre Box Office Web site, or call 416-973-4000. Visit the DanceWorks Web site for more information about the series.