Monday, August 14, 2006

Shahrokh Meshkin Ghalam and Kafan Siah

This was the third performance by this talented Iranian artist that I saw. The first one was called Bahram Gur and the Slave Girl and was performed in Symphony Space a few years ago. It was a bit less than 30 minutes and followed a long monotonous piano concert by a novice young Iranian pianist. Having rescued us from the boredom of the concert and its conciseness and flavored by the delightful angelic voice of Darya Dadvar, accentuated the dazzling performance of Shahrokh Meshkin Ghalam, was very promising and we all expected to see him for years to come on stage. He danced and whirled so passionately that one was impatient for his female dancing partner to leave the stage so we could watch him alone with his soul.

The second performance was Zohreh and Manouchehr, an adaptation of a play by Iraj Mirza, a great Iranian satirical poet. Shahrokh was playing the role of Zohreh, the female character. His impersonation of the female role, performed in a cozy playhouse on St. Marks St., was charming and delightful. Meshkin Ghalam, with his remarkable wit and his graceful acting, conveyed Iraj Mirza’s satirical story very well. The impersonation was, in fact, quite effective and a very creative form for performing this particular play. This second performance created an even higher expectation in the audience. He is a new hope as a new breed of young Iranian artist that we had been deprived of, at least out of Iran.

Kafan Siah, his third show, was performed in the same play house in St. Mark Place. The set design was fuller than his two previous performances and the stage was used more effectively. It included a simple backdrop screen with slide picture of historical ruins which were supposed to have been the imaginary setting of the show. Custom design, as usual, was very elegant and beautiful, and above all the audience, which during these few years developed quite a love and admiration for him, was ready to praise him generously. The story was a social narrative poem of a famous Iranian poet, Mirzadeh Eshghi, a dissident political poet. At the turn of century, Eshghi, an advocate of reform and democracy, was killed by the order of Reza Shah for the crime of his sharp criticisms.

Shahrokh was introduced to us as the winner of the Iranian Oscar, the Gold Lion, and his permanent membership in Comedie de France, which added to our expectation. However we were disappointed to see that his performance lacked the quality we expected from him. The two most significant skill that Shahrokh is famous for, dancing and impersonation, were missing completely, and that left us with less than an hour of poetry reading, only with pretty costumes, for the price of $45 per ticket. I found the performance unprepared and hasty, devoid of any inspiration or even the passion which we were used to seeing in Shahrokh’s performances. Knowing what he could have created, I was so disappointed to see there was only his pretty costume and his elegance, for which we are still grateful. But I for one am quite willing to sacrifice that for good acting. What was even more disturbing was that there was not even an innovation in his reading of the poem to make the poem easier on the ears of a contemporary audience, especially for educated, sophisticated Iranian women. Shahrokh may not believe it, but many of us are too far from being dead, or wearing a burial shroud (kafanpush), let alone a black one, to appreciate the wisdom of the poet who troubled himself one hundred years ago to describe it. Many of us can not even imagine what that kind of discrimination might mean. Many of us have never been discriminated against to appreciate the sight of a black kafanpush women. The image portrayed by Eshghi is too far from our lives or even those of our mothers, if not our grandmothers. Of course, that does not diminish the value or quality of the poet, Eshghi, but this is the problem of certain subject matter, and the particular view points, which dies or fades away through time and even locality. It is the directors’ and artists’ responsibility to bring these dead textures into the fabric of our present life so that audience can relate to it.
I can imagine that this play could have been more relevant to our time if it would have been part of a bigger collection of performances, i.e. if it would have been followed by a contrasting theme to reveal the changes which have taken place or by a play with the opposite ending due to some incident, effort or pure luck, or even simply change of time.

I hope this is only an accidental lapse in the career of this talented artist and not a permanent slump, and I hope that the receiving an award of whatever nature and value would translate itself into more efforts towards perfection and the sublime.


Nazy said...

Salam Mina Khanoom: Ba ejazeh, I'm linking this post to a short blurb I'm writing on this artist. I hope this is O.K.

Anonymous said...

I saw his performance in " Dance Variations on Persian Themes" and as his audience I was mesmerized by his performance. It was magical.
I don't think shahrokh is enforcing any idealogy to his audience. As other forms of art his performace is what people get out of it. I am an Iranian woman and I know and agree with one thing and that is the opression of women in Iran. Shahrokh thank you for existing...