Review: THE WHITE FEATHER, A PERSIAN BALLET at Kennedy Center

Presented by INTUITV ARTSHIP & Sanaz K. Soltani

By: Apr. 02, 2024
Review: THE WHITE FEATHER, A PERSIAN BALLET at Kennedy Center
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“The White Feather, A Persian Ballet” is a memorial, a protest, and a celebration of Iranian life and culture. Through contemporary ballet choreography and intriguing production elements, producer Sanaz K. Soltani and artistic director Tara Ghassemieh lead a captive audience through an emotional journey about dancing freedom.

The first act opens on a charming and bubbly young girl in pre-revolution Iran who begs her mother to take her to ballet classes. They visit a rehearsal of the Iranian National Ballet Company, at which the director invites her to dance alongside the professional ballerinas. The girl carries a white feather pen from her father, which acts as a freedom motif throughout the ballet. 

Despite the syrupy sweetness and contrived feel of these scenes, the pure presence of love and hope was undeniable. I knew that the lightheartedness of the opening would be a foil to something horrible about to happen.

As expected, the young girl’s precipitate dreams are tragically crushed by events of the Islamic Revolution. The villain of the ballet, perhaps representative of the first supreme leader of Iran, enters with high drama and multiple henchmen to a swift and anxious change in the music. After stripping the ballerinas of their crowns, pointe shoes, and tutus, the evil cohort executes the girl’s father and the curtains close on a very bleak note.

I would like to note the projected visuals as part of the set. The film was mixed- some was documentary style, with colorful video of Iranian people, art, and landscape. I enjoyed this, though untraditional, because it helped me establish a sense of place and setting. The other part was made up of highly processed footage of pre-recorded closeups of the dancers and AI-produced video. I thought this looked unpolished and took a toll on the seriousness of the show. 

Curiously, the villain read somewhere between Darth Vader and Voldemort. The costuming of this performer and his henchmen made their antagonism clear enough, but the choreography of this group left something to be desired. The pronounced scowl of the dancer combined with the majority of the choreography consisting of stomping around and sweeping his opposition aside unfortunately came across as more comical than menacing, which undercut the weight of his evilness.

Regardless of this, I felt a sense of deep despair watching the first act end with the execution of the young girl’s father. She never shows fear or worry, which made me almost sadder, as I pitied her childish naivete. 

The curtains opened on the second act to a visually pleasing set of five medium-wide drapes and red backlight. The Iranian National Ballet Company appears now in black hijab, performing desperate movements with effort and constriction.

Tara Ghassemieh reappears as the young girl grown into adulthood. She is defiant and brave, and her love for ballet persists through the depression of the time. In contrast to the caricature of the other performers, Ghassemieh is charismatic and emotive in a way that felt true and deep. Watching a woman reclaim her power to dance, resist the laws making certain expressions illegal, and band together with her fellow dancers to rise above the oppressive regime brought me to tears. 

The best part of this show was undoubtedly the performance of Tara Gassemieh. She moves with poise and power, and her movement quality is beautifully unique. Though linear as opposed to rounded like traditional ballerinas, she is not rigid, and her purposeful directionality is something I could watch for the entirety of an evening-length work. The innovative shape of the lifts and partnering in her duet with Vitor Luiz is something I will remember for a long time. 

In attendance and honored at the end of the performance were four members of the real Iranian National Ballet Company, which was active from 1958 until the Islamic Revolution in 1979. These dancers never had a chance to take their final bows, and their presence felt like a gift and a treasure. The audience applauded them with vigor.

Though it has its faults, “The White Feather, A Persian Ballet” deserves its rave reviews. In the end, when the lights came up, instead of the usual mad rush to the exits, I saw people sit pensively in their seats, wiping away tears and reflecting on what they just experienced. To all who watch it, this show proclaims;

“Dance until you are perfectly free.”



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