text, direction & stage design Amir Reza Koohestani
with on stage Mohammadhassan Madjooni and Mahin Sadri
and on video Abed Aabest and Behdokht Valian
director’s assistant Mohammad Reza Hosseinzadeh
music & sound creation Pouya Pouramin
video & technical direction Davoud Sadri
costumes designer Negar Nemati
stage assistant & surtitles operator Negar Nemati or Negar Nobakht Foghani
show in Persian with surtitles
translation to French & English and surtitles adapation Massoumeh Lahidji
running time 1h00
production Mehr Theatre Group
coproduction Festival actoral avec Marseille-Provence 2013 – Capitale Européenne de la Culture, La Bâtie – Festival de Genève
production managers Mohammad Reza Hosseinzadeh and Pierre Reis
company & tour manager Pierre Reis
The play contains video excerpts of Dance on Glasses // text, direction and stage design Amir Reza Koohestani // with Sharareh Mansour Abadi and Ali Moini // choregraphy Ehsan Hemat // music Thousand Years by Sting // production Mehr Theatre Group // created in 2001 in Shiraz, Iran
At the age of 22, then unknown, Amir Reza Koohestani lived a significant breakup. This personal event will give birth to Dance on Glasses, a play in which he tells this separation, performed by two actors sitting face to face, separated by a 4 meters long table.
Then, introduced on international stages with success, Amir Reza Koohestani wrote other pieces, all narrating implicitly the inability of people to stand up, to fight. Yet, Dance on Glasses remains for many people his referent work. To the point that they push him to write a similar text, what he refuses radically. The play had the effect of a bomb, dispersing the team since the last performance.
Last year, while tidying his room, Amir Reza Koohestani found inside of a Kunstenfestivaldesarts’ brochure, a business card with his name followed by a Belgian phone number. Flashback in 2004: the show Dance on Glasses encounters an unexpected success with the festival audience. The day after the last performance, Amir Reza Koohestani – being invited to stay a few more days for appointments and see some other shows – is given a mobile phone, a SIM card and a dozen of business cards with his name and new phone number in Belgium.
Back in 2013: Amir Reza Koohestani looks at the card and dials the number. Few rings. A young man answers. Amir Reza Koohestani greets him in English. The young man replies in English but with an accent. He then asks him in Persian: “I would like to talk with Amir Reza Koohestani.” The young man replied: “It is himself.” He then asks: “I would like to ask your permission to adapt Dance on Glasses”.
NOTE BY AMIR REZA KOOHESTANI
“Isn’t working in Iran hard?” is a question I’m asked systematically. And people ask it in such a way that the only answer I’m expected to give is: “Yes, it’s hard”. This reassures them and allows them to pay their taxes and vote in their elections with an easy mind. Admittedly their situation, particularly their financial situation, is difficult, but haven’t they avoided the worst of it by not being born in a country like Iran?
It’s a fact that Iranian directors have to struggle to work, just like their counterparts more or less all over the world. What is specific to us is without doubt the type of adversaries that we’re having to fight. In Stockholm or Cologne, it’s about fighting empty seats and fussy critics, cheap bars and IMAX cinemas where they can pay half as much as they do to see one of my inert shows but have ten times more fun. In Iran, though, there are no bars, no nightclubs, no IMAXes, not even foreign films in cinemas. So except for those who prefer to stay at home and watch satellite TV or DVDs of the latest films from all over the world, all young people can do is go to the theatre or to the cinema to see Iranian films, or even spend time in galleries and cafés. So Iran might not be an ideal place for young people (as demonstrated by the ongoing brain drain), but it is a paradise for thespians! The fantasy of any theatre director is perhaps to see young audiences queue for hours to get tickets for his or her show. That’s happened to me on several occasions. I have to admit that the experience is so wonderful and so unique, that in order to be able to relive it I’m prepared to confront the strictest board of censors and most inflexible authorities again.
Twelve years ago, when I was working on Dance on Glasses, I remember we had less than 50 euros for our set. It was almost impossible to envisage having anything other than a table and two chairs. The theatre we were performing in only had four spotlights. With the help of a bit of aluminium foil, we turned them into profiles. Back then we had to adapt the aesthetics of our play to our limited budget. Dance on Glasses therefore became the story of two people who didn’t have the strength to get up from their seats, primarily because if they got up, they moved out of the light. When the play started touring, I thought that this inertia would perhaps need to be justified to foreign audiences in advance. I was afraid they’d starting wondering why the two characters didn’t move any closer to each other throughout the play. It was obvious to me. Less than a year before staging the play, I’d found myself in a similar situation when I split up from a girl I loved. I’d sunken deep into my armchair to the point of being incapable of getting up and turning down the music to be able to hear her voice and answer her questions. But when we rehearsed the play, I doubted whether other people had had comparable experiences and whether they would understand that although young and in good health, at times you can find yourself completely paralysed and unable to get up. The tour of Dance on Glasses around the world proved that very luckily, or unluckily, people everywhere are familiar with this experience. Subsequently, this type of character moved into my world. Thanks to the success of Dance on Glasses, my next shows were played in theatres that had enough lighting to allow the actors to get up without leaving the light. And yet they also lacked the strength to get up and bring about a change in their situation. Whether they were illegal immigrants in Amid the Clouds, assassins in Quartet: A Journey North or in Ivanov, based on Chekhov, they had sunken deep into their armchairs or their beds as if they had taken root there.
Twelve years on and I’m returning to Dance on Glasses. Its audience and I are twelve years older. Since 2006, the date of the last performance, I’ve very rarely seen the actors from the play. The world has changed. Saddam is dead, Spain won the World Cup, Ahmadinejad, Bush and Sarkozy came to power and have gone again, everything has changed. I’m not longer this angry young man. To be angry, you have to have faith in something, in a path, in a truth, and what’s more have the strength to fight to get there. I admit that I have nothing of that today. Neither my past certainties nor the strength to fight. Western journalists and critics would like me to talk about executions, the ban on homosexuality and the compulsory veil to make me a living witness of events related by their media every day. For their part, my people would like me to be an ambassador, presenting a different image to the one conveyed by the media in Iran, talking about the joys, the lack of concern, presenting a peace-loving, agreeable face to those who have only been shown representatives of the axis of evil or victims. My freedom is not so much constrained by the Office of Monitoring and Evaluation as by these expectations and judgements that alienate me. Timeloss is the fruit of this period of my work. A play that offers no answer because the person who wrote it feels that he has been taught a lesson as much as its audience has. I’ll leave the answers and solutions to politicians and TV broadcasts. My theatre continues to be that of the inability of men and women to get up. Perhaps it has become slightly more pessimistic. At the end of Dance on Glasses, at least, when the man saw that he was going to lose everything and the woman was going to leave him, he got up and moved towards her in the hope of holding on to her. In Timeloss, when the man loses everything, he remains where he is, happy to watch. Timeloss is a play about self-denial. It deals with the past – it’s not about regretting it, but about rejecting it. More specifically, it doesn’t deal with the past, but with how the past is seen. So it doesn’t really matter if you’ve seen Dance on Glasses, which is just an object, a pretext for looking back. Like Orpheus who turns round and looks, knowing that doing so could dramatically alter his fate.
Amir Reza Koohestani, April 2014
Translation from Persian to French: Massoumeh Lahidji
English translation: Claire Tarring
. 3rd, 4th and 5th January 2019 / Festival Internacional Santiago a Mil, Santiago – Chile
. 8th, 9th and 10th November 2018 / Théâtre National de Bretagne, Rennes – France
. 5th November 2018 / Espaces Pluriels, Pau – France
. 12th and 13th May 2017 / La Triennale di Milano – Italy
. 20th and 21st November 2015 / Home Works Forum / Beirut – Lebanon
. 10th and 11th July 2015 / Santarcangelo Festival, Santarcangelo – Italy
. 29th and 30th April 2015 / Théâtre Populaire Romand, La Chaux-de-Fonds – Switzerland
. 12th to 15th April 2015 / Shiraz – Iran
. 21st and 22nd January 2015 / Segerstrom Center for the Arts, Off Center Festival, Costa Mesa, Los Angeles – USA
. 16th to 18th January 2015 / Public Theater, festival Under the Radar, New-York – USA
. 24th to 26th and 28th to 30th November 2014 / Théâtre de Bastille, Festival d’Automne à Paris – France
. 7th to 9th August 2014 / Internationales Sommer Festival, Kampnagel, Hamburg – Germany
. 7th to 10th May 2014 / Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels – Belgium
. 3rd and 4th May 2014 / Mousonturm, Frankfurt am Main – Germany
. 15th and 16th January 2014 / Festival Les Vagamondes, La Filature – scène nationale de Mulhouse – France
. 9th and 10th October 2013 / Festival actoral, Marseille – France
. 26th and 27th September 2013 / Festival De Keuze, Rotterdam – Netherlands
. 31st August and 1st September 2013 / La Bâtie, Festival de Genève – Switzerland