Sashar Zarif soars in dance

Moving Memories

Sashar Zarif Dance Theatre

Small World Music Centre

180 Shaw St. Studio 101

May 8 & 9, 8 p.m.


As complex and in a way alien to western dance as Sashar Zarif’s work is, there is no excuse for going away baffled from his show Moving Memories. The title refers to Zarif’s journey of rediscovery:  the roots of his dance in his grandmother’s practice and in the songs and folk dances of his home country of Azerbaijan. Elchin Musaoglu’s film, screening behind the performance space, documents the dancer’s trips back to Baku since 2004. Zarif discovered the reason for his quest in family memories he unearthed, both emotionally moving and literally causing him to move, to dance, to tell his story. There’s a touching moment when he is lying on a carpet his grandmother took with her everywhere: “What made me look for a home? It was her need to belong.”

Zarif has a home now, and it is in Toronto, Canada. Moving Memories is a culmination of all that he has learned in his research of his heritage, his dance aesthetic and himself. Rather brilliantly produced on a small budget, Moving Memories is a journey in dance. From his opening monologue to a closing, improvised dervish-y spin with drum and singing, Zarif takes us on a life dance, showing us the relationship between his culture, the need to be in the song (the Azerbaijani mugham) and for the song to be in him. Louis Laberge-Côté, in long flared white skirt, brings a contemporary interpretation to the Sama – the whirling dance done by shamans and Sufis. Mezmerizingly, he spins and dips, carving out the space with his arms, inhabiting the music with grace and power. At the centre of the show is Zarif’s solo, set to the poetry of Rumi: “The wound is the place where the light entres you.” The choreographer seems possessed as he utters deep growling, animal noises indicative of the essential self he has reached in for. It is a transformative dance showing the way to enlightenment. The whole thing is akin to an act of love.

As collaborator and dramaturge Elizabeth Langley informs us, when Zarif performs, he is so in the moment that there is no difference between living it and dancing it. Introducing him for the finale, she says, “Sashar will now experience the last work.” So he does and so do we.

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