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The mysteries of sand. Photo by ShaLeigh Comerford.

This spring (May 31–June 2), at the Live Arts Studio, we are launching our new performing arts program, Jumpstart, which showcases the work of six emerging artists based in the region. Choreographer and dancer Sahar Javedani left Iran with her family when she was a young child, and grew up in San Diego. Sahar recently moved to Philadelphia after seven years as a New York City-based choreographer, teacher, and arts administrator. At Jumpstart she will perform her solo workin the Middle, somewhat aggravated, which explores Sahar’s lifelong investigation of her Iranian heritage, both “the values that I embrace and those I’ve left behind coupled with the challenge of allegiance between these two cultures.” We caught up with the Sahar and asked her some questions about her life and work.

Live Arts: Why is your show title in the Middle, somewhat aggravated? What inspired the initial creation of this work?

Sahar Javedani: in the Middle, somewhat aggravated is definitely a play on the title of a work that William Forsythe created [In the middle, somewhat elevated] and describes my fascination and frustration with being raised between two cultures—Iran and America. The work examines my physical and emotional territories of allegiance—the values I uphold and those I’ve left behind. I believe the idea for this solo began brewing during my graduate work at CalArts [learn about her time at CalArts here] and there were several incarnations of this in the last decade.

LA: What was it like to grow up in Tehran and San Diego?

SJ: I was raised predominantly in San Diego; my family left Iran just before the revolution and the few memories that I have of Tehran are the scents of my grandparents’ rose garden, the lush feel of the Persian carpets beneath my bare feet, and the taste of orange blossom jam. It was wonderful being raised in North County San Diego where the floral and surfboard industry was so abundant and proximity to the beach and parks was fantastic.

LA: How did you become interested in dance and choreography? 

SJ: I’m convinced I was a choreographer before ever being a dancer. I still struggle with the idea of taking technique classes. When I close my eyes and listen to a piece of music, I see the entire production before my eyes—costume, lighting, sets. I am the daughter of an architect and set designer and grew up either performing theater or daydreaming in the catwalks of dark theaters during tech rehearsals.


Playing with light. Photo by ShaLeigh Comerford

LA: A lot of your work investigates your Iranian heritage as well as being someone of two cultures (American and Iranian). Why is movement such a good vehicle to investigate this?

SJ: A wonderful mentor of mine during my undergraduate studies at Hollins University, Donna Faye Burchfield, pulled me aside after seeing me perform a lead role in a Shakespeare performance my freshman year and encouraged me to study modern dance. To this day, I’m not certain what spark she saw in me, but ever since I began narrating my body stories through movement returning to speaking on stage hasn’t had that same kinesthetic charge. Coming from a culture where, traditionally speaking, women are more or less silent in their actions, I’ve inherited the mode of communication through dance with ease and developed an extensive battery of armor of gestural motifs.

LA: in the Middle, somewhat aggravated is a solo work How do your group work and solo work differ?

SJ: My group work is vastly different than my solo work. In my group work, I strive to be inclusive of my audiences—predominantly vibrant family friendly work with lots of costumes and props—it satisfies the aesthetic I developed as a child working in musical theater and my love of world music. My solo work is decidedly more political and sarcastic. It is, more often than not, structured improvisation and I experience a confluence of aggression and peace on stage.

LA: Why did you move to Philadelphia and how do you find it so far?

This dance studio is definitely in New York (as it is not one of the only 3 decent ones in Philly!). Photo by John Hennessy.

SJ: I moved to Philadelphia, after seven years in New York City, to join my new husband who is in Neurology residency and it’s been incredibly rewarding both professionally and artistically thus far. I couldn’t be happier working in higher ed again and while I am still committed to supporting friends’ works in what Mayor Nutter calls “the suburb to the North,” I am proud to call Philadelphia my new home, and love exploringTravel & Leisure‘s No. 1 City for Culture!

JUMPSTART, Live Arts Studio, 919 North 5th Street (at Poplar), Philadelphia, PA, 19123.
Thursday May 31, at 7pm
Friday June 1, at 7pm
Saturday, June 2, at 7pm
$18 for adults, $12 for students and buyers 25-and-under.


Review of Fresh Tracks Performance ~ written by Quinn Batson

Excerpt of review by Quinn Batson

"What begins as a solo dance with recognizable Persian and Middle Eastern movements and energy — beautifully soft hands and wrists, long hair flung dramatically, lower body rooted like a tree — takes a big twist when Sahar Javedani suddenly speaks. "I love America" delivered happily and heartily first and then with more and more distress, sounds at first like "I love Emiko" in her heavily accented pronunciation. The poignancy of this shift is then hammered home with a really funny and half-confusing computer slideshow illustrating how Sahar, as a typical Iranian girl, is or wants to be "just like you." All the imagery is of Iran and Iranians, including, briefly, President Ahmadinejad ("how the fuck did he get in there" is Javedani's reaction). The whole piece occupies an area of comic limbo where it's never completely clear what is genuine and what is satirical, from the heavily accented English to the commentary to the dance solo itself, though clearly Javedani is one sharp woman. in the Middle, somewhat aggravated works well on multiple levels."

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Culturebot - Five Questions for Sahar Javedani

Five Questions for Sahar Javedani

Posted on 13 May 2009 by Andy Horwitz

Name: Sahar Javedani
Title/Occupation: Artistic Director
Organization/Company: compani javedani

1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?

My family left Tehran, Iran just before the revolution in 1978. My very few memories of Iran are in black and white. We moved directly to San Diego where i started at a baptist pre-school, learning english, and coming home everyday telling my parents we were going to hell because we weren’t christian (we were Baha’i.)

i went to public school and was called every possible derogatory term for Middle-Eastern under the sun by my schoolmates. I fled and incubated in the theater, performing in many plays since the age of four. I survived and triumphed. My senior year in high school i was crowned Miss Encinitas and deferred college for a year. i spent that year fundraising for the community center i wanted to build for my town of Encinitas.

Graduated from Hollins University with my Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Theater. Graduated from California Institute of the Arts with my Master of Fine Arts in Choreography and Integrated Media.

After grad school, i returned to Encinitas to see my community center constructed! My father was the architect. I served as Production Director and Recreation Leader for two years while serving as Associate Faculty at Mira Costa College teaching world dance and cultures.

In the winter of 2004, i moved to NYC to co-found a new dance ensemble called TEA (Transpersonal Education & Art). Created evening lengths works for seasons at The Flea Theater and Danspace Project. In winter 2006, i created my own enterprise ~ compani javedani ~ as artistic director with a collective of designers, dancers and composers. We make dance-theater works centered on Iran, it’s people, history, art, hope for the future…

2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?

During my junior year in Paris for the Hollins Abroad program, my theater professor Phillipe Pantet introduced me to Ariane Mnoushkine and her Theatre du Soleil. We saw a production of “Et Soudain des Nuits D’Eveil” a work developed around the struggle for freedom in Tibet. Mnouchkine shattered the fourth wall in the most phantasmagorical way. As soon as you entered the space it became a total theatrical experience; the scent, the food, the light, the sound, the architecture. I was transformed, i wanted to slide under those audience bleachers where the performers had their open dressing room and never leave. I ended up seeing that production ten times and studied the script obsessively. What attracted me so ferociously in this socialist ensemble’s work was the depth and breadth of research and process invested in every production. I dream that someday i can manifest that same level of precision in magnitude.

3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?

Like my mother, i have always wanted to be an acrobat. To conquer my fear of heights, to fly, to bear witness to all in my surroundings without a tether.

4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.

I run a full-time LEAP after school program in yoga at PS 163 in Manhattan. I teach bellydance, athletic stretch, and bhangra, and occasionally play manager at Reebok Sports Club/NY.

5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?

For the first few years i lived in NYC, i worked at a non-profit arts service organization as a membership and finance manager. While i loved loved loved helping my artistic peers secure funds and commissions for their projects, i grew disenchanted with my own lack of dedication to achieve the same for myself. I felt a consistent fatigue because i was not committing fully to my creative goal.

So i took the tools i learned and booked it out of there. The year i left that organization and created compani javedani, we secured over thirty performances in our inaugural season and I put my dancers on salary. Yes, indeed…everything is possible. Last year i was nominated for the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, and I am currently in my second year as Artist-in-Residence at Tribeca Performing Arts Center, and participating in the Fresh Tracks Performance and Residency Program at Dance Theater Workshop.

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California Institute of the Arts - Alumni Profile on Sahar Javedani

Sahar Javedani is originally from San Diego, California by way of Tehran, Iran. Javedani is Artistic Director of compani javedani, a contemporary dance theater ensemble devoted to cultivating an empowered, intelligent and socially responsible community uniting all generations, cultures, races, and religions. Javedani has a Master of Fine Arts in Choreography and Integrated Media from California Institute of the Arts, a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and Theater from Hollins University, and was nominated for the 2008-2009 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. compani javedani’s recent performances and collaborations have included the Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival “”Dreams of a Caspian Rain,” Abrons Art Center “Maahinen Neito,” Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater, Tribeca Performing Arts Center “from Persia, with Measured Love,”Brooklyn Museum “Bazm-o-Razm” with Susan Oetgen and Likeness to Lily, Performance Mix Festival at Joyce Soho“Reparations” with James Scruggs, Triskelion Arts Center, Movement Research at DTW, The Chocolate Factory, Voice and Vision Envision Retreat and Lab at Bard College, Dance Conversations at the Flea Theater, Whitewave Dumbo Dance Festival and Whitewave Wave Rising Series, “In the Valley of Damavand,” Dance New Amsterdam, Empire Fulton Ferry Park, New York Theater Workshop, Fort Greene Park Dance for Peace Festival “Once upon a Time in India,” American Dance Guild’s festival at the Hudson Guild Theater, Dixon Place, The FAR Space, newsteps and Ear to the Ground Series at Mulberry Street Theater, Solar One Dance Festival, and the Chashama Oasis Festival “Story of Devdas and Paro.” Sahar Javedani is currently participating in her second year as an Artist-in-Residence at Tribeca Performing Arts Center and in the 2008-2009 DTW Fresh Tracks Performance and Residency Program and most recently in the 2009-2010 Dance Theater Workshop Studio Series creative residency.

What brought you to CalArts?

I have to thank my dear friend and collaborator of sixteen years Kate Conklin for bringing me to CalArts. She completed both her bachelors and masters degree in music at CalArts and is currently on faculty as director of the Bulgarian Vocal Ensemble.

How has your CalArts education been relevant to your professional path?

As a prospective student for the MFA program, I knew that I wanted to pursue a double concentration in Choreography and Integrated Media. CalArts was a perfect fit, I felt completely embraced by all of the departments including music composition, puppetry, film, and animation. It is through these collaborations that I have developed strong and enduring relationships with fellow artists, a priceless resource of talent indeed! 

What advice would you give to our current or perspective students?

I have a consistent comment that I share with all prospective students that you can have two distinct experiences at CalArts. 1) Stay focused and rooted in your school of choice, perfect your craft, build a powerful repertory/portfolio, etc. and 2) Open your creative heart and embrace the opportunity to diversify your talents in collaborative work with students in other departments.

CalArts is unique in that it houses the Schools of Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music and Theater as well as the Division of Library and Informational Resources under one roof. As a student, how did you engage with other members of the CalArts community and how did it influence your art making?

 I had the great fortune of collaborating with artists in the various departments at CalArts but most notably in commissioning original music for my MFA 1 Thesis Concert from Kate Conklin and Bryan Landers which included their live performance with guest artist John Bergamo. I studied North Indian Sargam as well as Balinese and Javanese dance. Both years, I worked with fellow artists in the Integrated Media program to develop installations for the annual showcase and collaborated with students in the puppetry program for a thesis performance. I continue to work with composer Bryan Landers, who designed the compani javedani website and commissioned music for a few large-scale performances.

How did the School of Dance fulfill your need to forge a career in dance?

When I came to CalArts, I wasn’t entirely convinced of a future in dance per se, but with a goal to deepen in the areas of performance studies and composition. The MFA program allowed me the freedom to explore various digital modalities and fortify my knowledge of technical theater, design and execution. The unlimited access to desirable resources as rehearsal space, dedicated students/performers, a media lab, etc. all played integral roles in strengthening my voice as a dancetheatermaker.

How did the technique classes prepare you for the physical demands of a career in dance?

In all honesty, I struggled with technique while pursuing my degree. I don’t believe I was a very good listener in class, and I always wanted to change the dance phrases to make them more meaningful for me, more theatrical, more narrative, I desperately wanted to fall in love with the dance. In retrospect, I believe I tried as hard as I could with the strengths I had at the time. Where I believe I excelled was in composition and in weekly showings where I was able to clearly speak about work in a fiercely honest and critical manner.

How did the other curricular courses (composition, dance history, anatomy, etc) inform you about the world of dance and how did it prepare you to move forward with your ideas and personal voice?

I believe that I came to CalArts with a very strong background in dance history, anatomy, etc thanks to a wonderful bachelor of arts program at Hollins University. What I quickly realized in pursuing my MFA at CalArts was the imperative requirement for self-discipline and sustained vigor. I spent many evenings locking myself up in the media lab until 4am, editing film, working diligently to hone my vision, how I want the audience to experience that which I have created. This practice has followed me to this day, and yes, cultivating balance in my daily life is a constant challenge and I wouldn’t want it any other way (insert devious and satisfied smile here.)

How has the technical production requirements of the program informed the way you communicate about your work?

As the daughter of an architect and set designer, raised in musical theater and opera, I came to CalArts with very strong technical skills, which played a great role in communicating with fellow lighting designers and designing costumes for every dance concert presented. The technical education I received at CalArts helped me to clarify in a concise and impactful manner the vision I desired to make manifest with my own work. 

CalArts has a strong mentoring system for each student. How did you find the guidance and support of your mentor as a student? Have you had the opportunity to mentor young artist in your career?

I believe the strongest mentors I had were in my fellow collaborators and the dancers I worked with, which I believe included nearly the entire first year dance student base. I required unabashed honesty from them and they delivered. I was always very conscious of making their involvement in a project worthwhile.

Do you continue to work or correspond with any CalArtians?

I love this question! You could say I’m one of the strongest advocates of CalArts. Immediately after graduation, I served two years on the CalArts Alumni Board of Directors and continue to sing the praises of CalArts to anyone who will listen. I continue work to with dancers who’ve graduated from the BFA dance program and support the work of my fellow alumnae from the dance, music, theater and film schools.

Current positions in occupation:

Artistic Director : compani javedani

World Music/Dance + Yoga Teaching Artist: Learning thru an Expanded Arts Program, Inc.

Group Exercise Instructor in Bellydance and Athletic Stretch: Reebok Sports Club/NY

Any other degrees or certifications that you have earned?

Master of Fine Arts California Institute of the Arts in Choreography and Integrated Media 2002

Bachelor of Arts Hollins University in Dance and Theater

About this Artist:


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