Shahrzad Khorsandi and Farima Berenji, both Bay Area performers of Iranian descent, are on a special mission to preserve the spiritual heritage of Persian dance.
“I always danced informally. It’s so much woven into the culture. In my family we’d just grab a pot or pan and bang on it and start singing our folk songs. And everybody would dance,” says Iranian-born dancer Khorsandi, whose unique contemporary Persian dance includes quintessential Persian movements that are informed by training in other dance cultures.
Berenji, who has degrees in art history, anthropology, archeology and performance, showcases dances of ancient Persia with rich meaning and transcendence.
This weekend, both appear at ODC Theater in the latest installment of its “Dance and Diaspora” series. They are accompanied by musicians Saman Mahmoudi on santoor and Samandar Dehghani on percussion.
Berenji approaches Persian dance with the passion of a historian.
“Due to the lure of technology and city life, the ancient nomadic dances are rapidly disappearing,” she says. “But if we have saved them for 5,000 years, the younger generation can do so for the next 100 years.”
While preserving the culture, she discovered mystical meanings in dances associated with Persian poetry and art.
“The number seven is extremely important in Persian and Central Asian mythology,” she says. “The ancient folk dances celebrate the seven gods and goddesses of Persia, who created this world.”
The influence of the gods, each represented by a different color, is seen in the Dance of the Seven Scarves.
“Red is the color of love, blue of water, etc.” Berenji said. “You see these same colors in Persian rugs. They bring them all to unity in the weaving.”
Khorsandi, whose family left Iran in the middle of the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s, began Western dance training in a Bay Area high school but she sought her own artistic voice after returning to Iran in her 20s.
“I got very emotional reconnecting with the culture, taking back what I had lost for 13 years,” she says.
Over time, she developed, what she described as, an intuitive Persian dance form.
“When I perform for Persian audiences, I’m told, ‘I’ve never seen dance like this before, but it’s so Persian,’” Khorsandi says.
But with today’s prohibition on dance in Iran how do her countrymen get to see her performances and classes? “YouTube,” she says.
IF YOU GO
Dance and Diaspora
With Farima Berenji and Shahrzad Khorsandi
Where: ODC Theater, 3153 17th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Tickets: $20 to $35