Overlong Journey Through 'Iranian World'

Brevity has never been the hallmark of an Avaz International Dance Theatre performance. When founding artistic director Anthony Shay serves as bilingual (Farsi and English) narrator, tour guide to the Middle East and singer, the evening can drag. Such was the case Sunday at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, when Avaz took to the stage with "Dance and Music of the Iranian World."

The 14-part program, while concentrating on court and folk dances from within contemporary Iranian borders, also plumbed the cultural depths of hot spots like Pakistan, Armenia, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan. With seven premieres and two long musical interludes (percussionist Siamak Pouian shone), it was difficult to discern one gracefully sculpted hand from another.

The good news: Brandy Healy and Mary Esther Espinoza made an exuberant pair in the premiere, "Rags-e Ryineh," a variant of Iran's famed mirror dance. Choreographed by co-artistic director Jamal, the duo's serpentine arms, slinky shoulders and delicate footwork provided lovely mirror-like imagery. Healy again proved fleet in "Armenia," another Jamal work, characterized by quick twirling and outstretched arms.

Jamal's "Khorasan" combined martial arts moves with Whirling Dervish-like spinning. Brandishing sticks, the choreographer also danced, ultimately joined by a male quartet that punctuated its barrel squats with warrior grunting. Jamal provided frame drum accompaniment to his and Shay's "Katta Uyin," in which six women in sumptuous velvet skirts stomped their boots and bobbed their heads, while fluidly forming various line combinations. Another Shay-Jamal work was "Baluchistan," a lively tableau of 10 women in red chiffon veils offering a melange of hand-clapping.

Also new: Shay's "Rags-e Shadi" and Jamal's "Gilan," the latter a dance from Ghassemabad, in which finger-snapping women mimed the harvesting of rice, replete with baskets.

This concert was originally scheduled for the Luckman Theatre, and it's too bad it couldn't have taken place there, where sight lines are better for dance. While much of Avaz's footwork seemed enchanting, it was nearly impossible to really see, as the Ebell's stage is too high for proper dance viewing.

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