Modern Dance, Ancient Myth, Ongoing Story: Persian tale ‘The Scarlet Stone’ comes to La Jolla Aug. 15

Persian tale ‘The Scarlet Stone’ comes to La Jolla Aug. 15

“The Scarlet Stone,” a dance-theater retelling of a tragic Persian myth about a hero father and his son, could not be performed in present day Iran. There, due to the exegeses of the state religion, modern dance is forbidden.

Here, with the freedoms available, “The Scarlet Stone” will take the stage 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15 at the Mandell Weiss Forum at La Jolla Playhouse, and the audience will be able to partake of this marvelous collaborative dance performance. It combines traditional Persian poetic oratory with gorgeous costumes, battle-like whirling and fluid dance, mystical music and song, rich lighting and lush computer-enhanced oversized background visuals.

The one-night-only presentation will be the first stop for “The Scarlet Stone,” series. It next travels to the Tirgan Festival in Toronto, Aug. 21-23, the largest fest for the Persian arts in the Western Hemisphere, which draws up to 140,000 attendees. On Aug. 29, the series ends with a show at Royce Hall at UCLA.

The Division of Arts & Humanities at UC San Diego is sponsoring the series. The Chehre-Azad Endowment Fund, established by UCSD Distinguished Professor of Mechanics and Materials, Sia Nemat-Nasser, and his wife, Eva, helped underwrite the show. Professor Nemat-Nasser also translated the texts used for the performances.

The maestro behind the work is Shahrokh Yadegari, a professor of sound design in the Theater & Dance Department at UCSD. Yadegari adapted the texts used, directed the action, composed the music and designed the soundscape.

Yadegari, who grew up in Tehran, was educated in electrical engineering at Purdue University, worked at the world famous IRCAM music institute in Paris, and then went on for further education at MIT Media Lab, before entering the UCSD Department of Music, where he received his Ph.D.

After working with the illustrious Peter Sellars, as sound designer for his Sellars’ Mozart opera series that ran throughout Europe, Yadegari was hired to develop a Sound Design Major for the UCSD Theater Department.

His “The Scarlet Stone” is a computer-enhanced rendition of Iranian poetic art that is traditionally performed by male storytellers (naqqal) in the streets or coffee/tea houses, with paintings and drawings used as a backdrop. The story revolves around father and son, mythic warriors (paladins) Rostam and Sohrab. It comes from two sources, one ancient and the other modern, and is meant to be a symbolic commentary on the present political situation of the people of Iran, especially women and the young, who are engaged in a heroic struggle for freedom.

The ancient source for the work is the 1,000-year-old Shahnameh or Book of Persian Kings by Abdqasem Ferdowsi, an epic poem said to be the longest poem ever written by one person. Ferdowsi struggled for 30 years to write his masterwork, defying the Islamic takeover of Iran and its repression of the Iranian language and culture. It is the Shahnameh that revived Persian culture and prevented its extinction.

Yadegari combines the Shahnameh with a modern poem written by Siavash Kasrai.

Kasrai’s poem Mohreh Sorkh, or The Scarlet Stone, begins on the battlefield where Sohrab lies languishing from his wounds and reflecting back on his life. Sohrab’s father, Rostam, has tricked him and stabbed him mortally in the back during combat. But upon discovering that the dying Sohrab is actually his never-before-seen son, a love child born to Princess Tahmineh, Rostam has taken off to the King’s Palace to find a magical potion to heal him.

Principle dancers include: Afshin Mofid, playing Rostam, who danced under George Balanchine at the New York Ballet; Shahrokh Moshkin-Ghalam, a graduate from the University of Paris, in the role of Sohrab; Ida Saki, a Presidential Scholar and member of Cedar Lake Ballet, performing as Gordafarid, a female warrior Sohrab has fought in combat and fallen in love with; Mariam Peretz, of Ballet Afsanehn in the Bay Area, as Tahmineh, the mother of Sohrab and former lover of Rostam. The narrator, the first female storyteller of the Shahnameh, is played by Fatemeh Habibizad.

The story of Rostam and Sohrab, although somewhat difficult for westerners to comprehend, seems to be a kind of mirror of the web that has plagued Iran for millennium and conditions things to this day.

“This is a story that encapsulates several of the political hallmarks of Iranian history, including the Moslem conquest of a thousand years ago, the internal overthrow and exile of the Shah by the British government (in 1941), and the failure of the 1979 and 2009 revolutions, which resulted in the betrayal of the people with brutal repressive powers always winning out,” Yadegari said.

“Really this is a story of the conflict between infatuation, or being guided by and carried away by transitory passionate urges or foolish love and admiration, versus being informed by a calm and steady wisdom where one can see the long-term results of one’s actions. There isn’t a definite political stance in this work. My only hope is that it will help people, especially in Iran, begin to talk and really listen to one another.”

If you go: “The Scarlet Stone” begins at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 15 in the Mandell Weiss Forum at La Jolla Playhouse on the UCSD Campus. Tickets: $10, $35 and $50 at scarletstone.com

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