"Dance is the most evanescent, and yet the most permanent of all of the arts: it has been with humankind from time out of mind and yet, once performed, it disappears. Dance forms the sum total of the traces of its movements, largely and immediately historical as soon as it is performed, except as a memory in the minds of the performer, creator and viewer. Until recent decades with the advent of film, dance has historically left no traces of its specific and minute movement practices to be analyzed in a frozen form and yet, as Confucius sagely observed, its movement practices embody stylistic elements that form a rich source of information about the societies in which it is performed. Dance has been my life. It has been the key for opening doors to cultural treasures and the lens through which I view life. I find the endless capacity for the creative movements that human beings, in all of their cultural diversity, choose to call "dance " worthy of a lifetime of study. Because its medium is the human body, that which all of us possess, it transcends language and enables a visceral understanding of the human condition not equaled in and other art form."
The AVAZ International Dance Theatre was founded in 1976 by Anthony Shay. Since its founding, AVAZ has traveled locally, nationally and internationally presenting the dances, music, costumes, and customs of diverse regions of the world from Hungary and Croatia, Greece and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan, Iran and Uzbekistan. The mission of AVAZ contains two important aspects: 1) preserving and performing traditional and folk dance and music from a wide variety of cultures and 2) educating the widest possible audience about these art forms and the societies and peoples they represent. AVAZ fulfills this mission through performances by its professional ensemble of artists, both in Southern California and nationally, and through an extensive educational outreach program that serves elementary, middle and high school pupils, college and university students, community organizations and the general public. In the view of AVAZ Artistic Director, Anthony Shay, the stage presentation of traditional/ethnic/folk dances, songs, music, costumes and customs requires authentication and documentation. This is done through hours of dedicated and intensive research in the form of bibliographic searching, studying scholarly books and articles in a variety of languages, viewing and reviewing video cassettes, attending master classes at home and abroad, traveling abroad to visit museums and interview knowledgeable performers and scholars. Due to this exacting research, AVAZ is highly respected in the artistic and academic community for its attention to authentic detail and nuance in movement, sound, and costuming. Since 1954, Shay has amassed an impressive research library containing thousands of rare works on costume history and production, dance, music, and ethnography, all of which are utilized in the design and production of many of the costumes, sounds, and dances found in a topical AVAZ evening. From the beginning, AVAZ has maintained intensive relationships with the ethnic communities whose traditions the company portrays on stage, and many of the company's board members and performers come from these communities.
There are two basic types of dance performed throughout the Iranian Culture Sphere, and indeed, throughout the Middle East generally. The first type is regional folk dancing which is most often performed, but not exclusively so, in groups. In the folk dances of the northern and western regions of this vast cultural region, which includes Georgia, Armenia, flaghestan, Azerbaijan, Kurdistan, and Luristan, the dancers are often linked by hand holds of various sorts. The leader of these dances often executes special figures as well as signaling and changes in the foot patterns, movements, or direction in which the group is moving, often by gesturing with his or her hand, in which a kerchief is held. The performance of these dances in line, semi-circular and/or circle formations forms the eastern terminus of a choreographic "belt" which begins in Europe and ends in this northwestern region of the Iranian culture sphere, in which such patterned line and circle dances constitute the most common form of choreographic expression. By contrast, in the eastern and southern districts of this area such as Khorasan, Fars, the Persian gulf Region, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, the regional dances are performed in groups, but the dance rs do not touch one another, and often carry scarves, sticks, or other objects with which to embellish their movements. In the latter area, some scope for improvisation is possible because of the relative freedom of the body, however the dancers conceive of themselves as part of a group which moues together. All of these dances are most often associated with the countryside, even though they may sometimes be seen in urban areas, particularly the line and circle dances.
Because of the many participants associated with these dances, they are more commonly associated with outdoor performances. Briefly, these dances are characterized by regional specificity of style and short, patterned choreographic phrases that are repeated and embellished with variations in contrast to the solo improvised dance which is based totally on improvisation and solo performance. Regional dances, particularly those of the first type which are performed in lines and circles, may be seen at various events in Southern California or other areas of the United States where large communities of Azerbaijanis, Kurds, Assyrians, and Armenians hue and gather for communal celebrations.
The second type of dance is solo improvised dancing which is associated more often with urban life than the specific regional forms which are more commonly performed in village and tribal areas. In contrast to the regional dances, this dance form is performed in a highly individual and idiosyncratic style, and yet in a strikingly uniform manner both in its performance and in the aesthetic and creative impulses that form its basis throughout this vast region. Such dancing can be seen from Tiflis in Georgia to Western China, from Khiva in Uzbekistan to Shiraz in southwestern Iran, as well as the Iranian Diaspora, especially Southern California. This dance form is potentially limitless in its improvisational creativity within its specific stylistic framework. Such dancing largely forms the folk, classical, professional, and social dancing of the urban population. This dance tradition may be seen domestically and professionally as part of the comic improvised theatre (ru-howzi, siyah-bazi), and forms an integral part of the women's domestic theatre (bazi-ha-ye namayeshi).
Solo improvised dance consists of a large and rich reservoir of movement practices and during the course of the dance, highly experienced dancers, both professional and amateur, employ shoulders, hips, torso, head and even nuance movements of lips and eyebrows. This array of movement practice may be seen in both private and public performances in which an enormous variety of movement combinations and moods - serious, playful, sensual, joyful, graceful, ethereal - may be experienced.
In such performances, the individual, skilled dancer has at his or her disposal a reservoir of movements and movement formulae which can be composed and recombined in a dizzying and almost limitless variety, presenting the truly creative individual with the possibility of endless performances of exciting creativity, freshness, and uniqueness. It is in the use of the movements of torso and facial features such as the eyebrows and lips, that both the most transgression and aesthetic potential exists. The most important characteristics of this dance tradition are its linkages with other performative practices through the use of improvisation and with other visual forms through its use of geometric elements, both of which inform many genres of Iranian art.
Solo improvised dancing is occasionally performed by more than one performer at the same time. For example, in a large party a large group of people may dance simultaneously, but each performs largely without reference to the other and the movements are highly individual. This dance genre forms the basis for stage performances which are no longer improvised but fashioned into routines or choreographs that are set and performed in unison by dancers who practice the choreography for public performances.
In Iranian solo improvised dance, both domestically and professionally, the performance of beautiful and intricate hand and arm movements is highly prized. Unlike the mudra movements and gestures found in classical Indian dance forms, the sometimes intricate hand movements in solo improvised dance in the Iranian culture sphere are abstract. Miming can be found, for it forms a basic part of the women's domestic theatre and certain rural dances depicting work movements, however miming is not codified but idiosyncratic.