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The Vancouver Pars National Ballet performs October 10 as part of our Discover Dance! series. We caught up with founder Azita Sahebjam for a quick Q&A about her life in dance and the inception of her company.
What is your personal background in dance?
I began taking classical ballet classes at the age of 9 in Tehran, Iran. In the 70’s we had two national ballet companies and I trained at Pars National Ballet, and eventually became a company member. We presented classical ballet technique with Iranian stories and ballets, as well as the classics. In addition to being a company member I also became an instructor at the academy.
In recent years I’ve also taken up Flamenco dancing and the Argentine Tango, both of which I love very much.
What prompted you to start the Vancouver Pars National Ballet?
I immigrated to Vancouver in the late 80’s due to the Iranian revolution, which consequently banned public dancing and training of any kind. I found myself in a new homeland which gave me the opportunity to not only continue dancing as a career, but preserve my heritage and culture through dance. I originally thought I would teach ballet classes, but noticed that there was a need to teach our next generation our traditional folk dances instead. With the blessing of our founder, I began a chapter of the dance company, appropriately named Vancouver Pars National Ballet. We train students with the foundations of ballet technique, but focus on Iranian folk and traditional dancing. It will be our 30th anniversary next year, and I am so proud we’ve been able to keep this small organization going for this long.
What would you most like people to know about traditional Iranian dances?
Iranian dances are so special and incredibly beautiful. Each region/province in Iran has its own costume, music, style and unique dance movements. The movements are said to be derived from everyday tasks like farming, fishing, and so on. They’re meant to be intricate yet simple enough that even grandpa could participate.
What is your proudest moment to date?
Wow that is a difficult question. I have to speak to three I think. First it would be the recognition received from our former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien some years ago. Second would be the fact that we have remained operational for so many years with very little outside support, funding or grants. And lastly, the number of students who are now company members and instructors. The icing on the top is still being able to perform around the world, share stories and culture through this simple language of dance.
What might people be surprised to know about you?
I also work in film as an actress. I’ve been in a few independent and Hollywood productions, and will be working on a feature film in 2020. I also spend time working for the Jasmine Fire Safety Foundation, a charitable foundation that equips students and educators with the tools and training needed to stay safe from fire-related emergencies worldwide. They fundraise and collaborate with BuildOn to construct a new school every two years in some of the economically poorest communities around the world. I’m very passionate about this work, as the Foundation is in honor of my husband’s late daughter Jasmine Jahanshahi..
What is your next project?
Discover Dance! of course! We are so thrilled to be part of this series, among some of our cities best cultural dance groups. Outside of this performance we are working towards our 30th anniversary show which will be next Fall.
The Dance Centre presents the Discover Dance! series
Vancouver Pars National Ballet
Thursday October 10, 2019 | 6.30pm
Scotiabank Dance Centre
Photos courtesy of the company