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Mehregan Celebration - Tania Eshaghoff and Ensemble, Nekissa Dance Company

by Robert Abrams
October 11, 2003
Symphony Space
2537 Broadway
New York, NY 10025
(212) 864-1414

Mehregan Celebration - Tania Eshaghoff and Ensemble, Nekissa Dance Company

Robert Abrams
October 11, 2003

Tania Eshaghoff and Ensemble

Symphony Space was the place to be tonight for an extraordinary celebration of Persian and Iranian culture presented by The Iranian American Society of New York and the Persian Cultural and Humanitarian Association. The first half of the performance was a series of original compositions inspired by Persian classical music, most of which was composed by Tania Eshaghoff. Ms. Eshaghoff also played the piano for most of the works presented. Her passion for the music was visible as she poured her heart and soul into the keys. The music that came out of the piano's strings was equal to the passion put into the keys.

Tania was accompianied by Edward Smaldone on bass, Ali Bello on violin, Skye Steele on violin, Chris Hoffman on cell, Jon Uman on hand percussion and tomback, and Andy Sanisi on percussion. Their talent and passion were equal to Ms. Eshaghoff's. More importantly, the musicians all played as a well fitted ensemble so that the talent of the group shone first, with the talents of each individual musician shining through second.

The music had a soaring, full sound. It was alternately lilting and dynamic. To my ear, the music sounded both rooted in its culture while reaching for universality. The packed audience, which happened to be mostly of the culture (English perhaps being the least frequently spoken language on this night), clearly enjoyed the music because they clapped loudly after each work and gave a standing ovation at the end. I suspect that Ms. Eshaghoff's music would play well in a larger hall with a less specialized audience as well.

The music presented included Arpeggio, Dancing with Souls, Memories Kindled, Chain of Events, Riding with Horses, Tribute - Sept 11, and Triumph which were composed by Tania Eshaghoff. Also presented were Esfahan with composition by Javaad Maroufi and arrangement by Tania Eshaghoff and Edward Smaldone, Chahargah with composition by Javaad Maroufi and arrangement for violin by Tania Eshaghoff, and Blue as the Turquoise Night of Neyshabur by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble with composition by Kayhan Kalhor, arrangement by Tania Eshaghoff and transcription by Ali Bello.

There were many details in the music to like. I will just pick out a few that I thought were especially praiseworthy. I loved the way the violin and the piano passed themes back and forth. There were sections with well contrasted rhythms that were carried simultaneously by the piano, the violin and the drums. These sections were similar in effect to the layered rhythms often found in Tango. Or to put in it another, somewhat simplified way, I expect African music to be polyrhythmic and classical Western music to be melodic and almost arhythmic, so to find music that manages to be both polyrhythmic and melodic is kind of a gift, especially as a dancer.

In the final work, Blue as the Turquiose Night of Neyshabur by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble with composition by Kayhan Kalhor, arrangement by Tania Eshaghoff and transcription by Ali Bello, each violin was remarkably expressive with its own distinct character. Plaintive bows were drawn slowly across the strings. The musicians were coming to the end of almost two hours of performance, and yet were still able to invest themselves in the beauty and power of a single note. This was followed by a passage where all of the string instruments (except the piano) were plucked. This was the kind of pleasing contrast found throughout the evening. Often in this work, the rhythms of each instrument would be in sync and then shift to a contrasting rhythm. The musicians accomplished this, as far as I could tell, by altering their bow speed. The work, and this half of the evening, ended with a dramatic finish, followed by applause that rose to the occasion.

The performance was beautiful to watch as well as to listen to. The lighting did a fine job of emphasizing the musicians whose instruments were in the fore of each section of the music, changing the lighting as the music changed. Symphony Space was sold out for this performance, so the next time Tania Eshaghoff is playing, make sure to buy your tickets early.

Nekissa Dance Company

The second act was a presentation by the Nekissa Dance Company, a dance company based in Paris, France and founded by Moshkin Ghalam.

Nekissa Dance Company presented a series of Persian mythological dances. These were based on the story of Khosrow and Shirin, a love story by the 11th century Persian poet Nezami Ganjavi, the story of Haft Paykar, also by Nezami Ganjavi, in which Bahram Goor, a king, battles dragons and falls in love with Dorosty, a princess, and "The battle of Sohrab with Gerdafarin" from Ferdowsy's "Shahnameh". The music for these dances was by Majid Derakhshani, Parviz Meshkatian, and Kaykhosrow Pournazery. The art and stage production was by Shahram Sabeti and the producer was Soussan Azarin.

Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam opened the first dance with prancing, intricate footwork. The character of the movement looked, to my eye, as a cross between Indian styling with the kind of emphatic carriage and footwork found in Russian dance. Whether this is due to convergent evolution of the art forms or direct cultural influences, I am uncertain. What is certain is that Mr. Ghalam's dancing was precise and supremely talented, danced in a style that was refreshingly unique. Considering how much dance I have seen over the past year or so, this is saying something.

In the second section, Karine Gonzales took the stage. Her arms seemed to flow as if they could bend anywhere, and not just at her joints. Her costume, by Mahin Asvadi, boasted a sumptuous contrast of reds in the pant suit and long overskirt. Ms. Gonzales danced with a bearing as regal as her costume. In the wedding section, the white outfits were dazzling.

The choreography used much pantomimed firing of bow and arrow. As I watched it occurred to me that the bow and arrow action must in some way be inherently conducive to dance since it appears in the dances of so many cultures. How often does one see the modern tools of war presented as a beautiful act in dance? Maybe it says something about those tools? Just a thought to ponder.

Both dancers showed off fine side to side head isolations. They both showed the poise akin to a fine ballet dancer.

In those passages where they danced together, they had a shared exuberance, which was enhanced by the choreography which had them rotate around each other in a large circle. In the wedding section, there were dips and underarm turns much like in social partner dancing. They playfully chased each other back and forth across the stage in a representation of love.

The choreography mixed quiet sections with energetic passages and an incredibly strong finish. This final passage employed staccato movements. Both the man's hair and the woman's hair progressively loosened from their original neat pony tail form as both dancers threw themselves into endless whirling spins. As with the changing and constrasting rhythms seen in some of Ms. Eshaghoff's music, the dancers would sometimes be whirling in sync and sometimes out of sync, thus allowing the choreography to create greater impact than each movement by itself. The dramatic overhead lighting and simple black and tan costumes at the end added to this strong effect.

As presented the series of works were fully engaging, even though they appeared to be excerpts of a longer work. In between each section, Darya Dadvar, wearing a stunning white and gold gown, delivered narration, sometimes spoken and sometimes sung. The narration was not in English, so I can't comment on the content, but it was beautifully spoken and poetic.

From start to finish this was a wonderful evening. I just hope that the next time Tania Eshaghoff and Ensemble or the Nekissa Dance Company comes to town they have a longer run so more people can see them perform.

For more information on Ms. Eshaghoff, please see www.TaniaProductions.com. Ms. Eshaghoff's CDs can be purchased www.cdbaby.com. While nothing can top a live performance, her CD "Dancing with Souls" is definitely worth buying.

For more information on Symphony Space, please see www.symphonyspace.com or call 212-864-5400. Symphony Space is located at 2537 Broadway, New York, NY 10025.

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