Interviews & Articles

Banafsheh is interviewed about her creative process and source of inspiration by Alexis Cohen, founder of Art Medicine Masterclass.
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Banafsheh is interviewed about her Renew in Honey Goddess Waters workshop in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada by Lauren Collins of Parksville Qualicum Beach News.
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Interview in Persian by Farhang Ghavimi about Banafsheh’s dance at the 9th Annual MixMatch Festival in Santa Monica, CA
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Spotlight on Banafsheh and The Living Sophia Immersion in Turkey
Interview by Leyla Yvonne Ergil
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Article by Barbara Quelch 

Having Banafsheh visit Hollyhock as a presenter is a big deal. A really big deal. She is one of the few bearers of authentic Persian dance in the world, an innovator of Sufi dance previously only performed by men and a pioneer in contemporary Persian dance, all of which characterize the form she has created called Dance of Oneness®.

Iranian-born dance artist and transformational teacher, Banafsheh communicates the universal message of Sufi mysticism in a passionate yet meditative way. Her dance is an interplay between trance and directed movement, completely precise yet completely abandoned and unrestrained. Her explosive movement is sensual and ritualistic, an organic trance of impeccable technique gone wild yet anchored by a serene core. She invokes the ancient roots of dance as devotion and prayer while blazing an unique trail in contemporary dance with her masterly fusion of high level dance technique and spirituality.

Have a look at this dance form here:

Internationally known for her innovative movement vocabulary and high artistic and educational standards, she draws from her extensive background in Sufism, Persian dance and ritual, Tai Chi and Flamenco to present a new form, rooted in tradition yet universal, “fusing ancient forms with a postmodern punch” (Los Angeles Times). Her movement is comprised in part by the Persian alphabet she has translated into gestures and movement, which when put together ,one dances out words and poetic stanzas, mostly taken from the works of the great mystic poet, Rumi, whom she has studied extensively, resonating with his fierce yet gentle essence that beckons each and everyone to break through conformity and limitation to find their individual glory.

Banafsheh comes from a long lineage of pioneering performing artists. Her father, the legendary Iranian filmmaker, theatre director and actor, Parviz Sayyad, hailed as the Charlie Chaplin of Iran, is the most famous Iranian of his time.

Banafsheh is a recipient of the prestigious James Irvine Foundation grant in Dance. She holds an MFA in Dance from UCLA where she taught Persian dance. She has studied with some of the great masters in dance and choreography including Antonia Rojos, Victoria Marks, David Rousseve and Donna Uchizono. Also an acupuncturist, she draws from the Taoist view of the internal functioning of the body to uncover the healing, rejuvenating aspects of movement.

Banafsheh’s solo and ensemble work with her dance company, NAMAH have been presented extensively in festivals and by dance presenters in North America, Europe and Australia where she has gained tremendous audience and critical acclaim. She recently performed at the closing night of the Festival of Sacred Arts in Madrdi at Teatros del Canal. Her 2011 dance film In the Fire of Grace with author and scholar, Andrew Harvey traces Rumi’s journey of the Soul in dance.

Banafsheh teaches Dance of Oneness from September 14 – 19th on Cortes Island.

By Felicia Tomasko, Editor-in-Chief

Master of mystical Persian dance, when Banafsheh teaches or performs, she moves with an attitude of liquid gold pouring over silk velvet. Banafsheh embodies what it means to dance with abandon, what it means to fully live the ecstatic poetry of Rumi, of luminous moonlight on radiant silver clouds. Watching her dance is to glimpse something both otherworldly as well as fully grounded in the momentous meaning of the present.

Banafsheh and her friend and colleague, Andrew Harvey, the mystic who frequently writes and speaks on sacred activism, the poetic words of Rumi, and the path of the sacred, together created a DVD called In the Fire and Grace. She spoke to LA YOGA while still unpacking from her recent trip to Turkey, where she led the retreat: Dance of Oneness, Upward Spiral of Love.

Felicia Marie Tomasko: When you dance, what do you call upon for inspiration?
Banafsheh: I call upon the Beloved, which in essence is all-that-is, so everything inspires me to dance. I dance to become empty, exorcising myself of emotional buildups, so that the Divine music can play through me. Rumi likens the human body to the ney or the reed flute. He says, “We have two mouths like the ney, one mouth is hidden in the lips of the Beloved.”

FMT: How do you connect with music when you dance?
B: I become the music. Sometimes, I feel I am one of the instruments in the orchestra, other times I am the whole orchestra.

FMT: How do you connect with music as a performer and as a teacher?
B: As a performer, I echo the music and feel moved by it, especially when I improvise with musicians where we create in the now as a group channel for Divine music. As a teacher, the music is sometimes the source of choreography and other times I begin with a choreography. I want to teach, then I choose the piece of music based on the sequence. In my classes I use music to open people’s hearts, wanting for them to connect deeply with themselves, with the dance, and with others.

FMT: What was the impetus for creating the DVD: In the Grace of Fire?
B: I have been performing and touring since 1999 and have an extensive archive of concert footage, which I have never released to the public despite the great urging from my audiences. Shortly after I began teaching and performing with my dear friend and colleague, Andrew Harvey, he urged me to create a DVD of our work together. From this kind of presentation, I could see a real value emerging. I see my work and offering as an invitation to all, especially women, to break through resistance and express themselves fully, as has been my own journey as a Middle Eastern woman finding herself in dance – one of the most tabooed public activities in the region.

FMT: What makes In the Grace of Fire different from your live performances?
B: There is no live audience: It’s literally me and the Divine. Having not had much experience with dancing purely for recording, I approached the filming experience like a dance with the Divine. I performed the dances from beginning to end without stopping and repeated them a number of times.

FMT: What has been the response to the DVD thus far?
B: The response I have received is much more than I had hoped. People feel inspired by the invitation to embody the Transcendent fully: in both peace and passion as outlined in the five stages of the path in the DVD. People tell me that seeing this helps them to live knowing that everything that happens in our lives is an act of Grace, or in other words, to live love.

FMT: Speak about your collaboration with both Rumi and Andrew Harvey.
B: The poet Rumi has always been my spiritual guide and teacher. He brought Andrew and I together at Kripalu in 2007, when we began teaching and performing the five stages of the spiritual path as set forth by Rumi – The Call, Falling in Love, The Dark Night, Union, and Living as the Lover. Collaborating with Andrew has been an amazing journey as he so passionately and utterly has given all of himself to our offering, supporting me so completely along the way and encouraging me to take flight.

FMT: How does your study of Chinese Medicine and healing connect with your work in music and dance?
B: I approach dance and music as a way to heal, to become whole. Chinese medicine teaches us about the management of our energy, the meridians being like our energy flow channels and focal points. My teaching is in part based on meridian energy flow, and I have also developed movements for each of the seven bodily chakras. I dance with the intention of being open to that vast field of healing, and by embodying myself fully in each moment – thus being empty to channel light, love, and grace.

FMT: How does Yoga connect to dancing for you?
B: The process of calling on the Beloved, being open to heal and to be divine, be the Oneness through dance – is a kind of Yoga. In this manner, Yoga and dance for me are connected processes in that they both develop and prepare the body to be a channel for light and love in the world, and one is essential and integral to the other. Banafsheh teaches regularly in her current home city of Los Angeles as well as throughout the world.

For Banafsheh, dance is a connection with the divine, with the infinite, and is an expression of oneness with the universe through this artistic language. To create the soundtrack for her practice, she often collaborates with skilled sacred musicians, including the heartfelt Tony Khalife.

Un viaje que separa alma y cuerpo:
El espectáculo ‘Into the vast’ rememora el hipnotismo de las dances Persas

The Voyage of Separation of Soul from Body:
The dance performance ‘Into the Vast’ invokes the hypnotic essence of Persian dance
by Miguel Perez Martin
(English Translation of the original review in Spanish)

Presence, trance, surrendering to hypnotic tribal music were all elements of the intricate performance created by Persian dancer and choreographer Banafsheh Sayyad, the Persian percussionists of ZARBANG and Greek musician Matthaios Tsahourides for the closing night of the Festival of Sacred Arts at Teatros del Canal in Madrid. ‘Into the Vast’ is much more than an hour and a half of entertainment. It is a voyage rich with feeling that surpasses all common sense to demonstrate the separation of soul from body, just as the Turkish Darvishes do when they whirl for hours until they enter into trance.

Blue Dress: The Invocation of the Divine
Banafsheh dances softly to the rhythm of the water drum, her arms moving in hypnotic slow motion up toward the sky. Each movement is intensely meaningful as if calculated to the smallest millimeter, as a voice claims in Persian and then in English, the poetry of Jalāl-e-Din Rumi: ‘I cried, oh my hypnotised heart, where are you going? Silence, said the Emperor. She comes toward us’. Banafsheh, accompanied by the lament of the Greek Pontic Lyra of Tsahourides, realizes her inner voyage to abandon her body. After her gradual departure, the musicians enter into improvisation where they perform solos back and forth, gradually building towards a climax.

Black Dress: Abandoning the Body
Banafsheh dresses in dark and frill to dance to the rhythm of the flamenco Cajón, without abandoning the gracefully subtle movements of Persian dance. At this time, she asks herself: ‘When will I acknowledge my own divinity?’ This is not a replica of traditional Persian dances; it is an innovative fusing of the tribal, the ancestral, and the modern. The years of devotion to  Persian dance are apparent in her movements and gestures which have earned her great recognition in North America, Europe and Australia. In the background, the musicians start to join in the trance and surrender as the dancer whirls and whirls with her long mane floating in the air. The music transports us to the plains and the deserts, to the wind that blows between the sand dunes, and the Pontic Lyra embroils in a battle with itself to interpret a hasten escape that carries hints form the Baroque Masters and the Slavic songs of the Balkans.

White Dress: The Joy and the Glory
The music accelerates and Banafsheh, in white, and a red veil in her hands, is out of her body. The instruments travel through different genres of music: from darvish mysticism to tribal rhythms, from savage to Bulería. Banafsheh dances with heartfelt bewilder – as she has also studied flamenco – to arrive at an earthy dance with legs in wide stance, and from there, onward to her endless whirling. She loses her face between her voluptuous manes and hits her chest as she dances without stopping. The audience has now been driven crazy and do not resist in moving their heads, shaking, and breaking into a clapping rhythm while the music accelerates and the trance is converted into a shared climax throughout the concert hall. All the way from the balcony to the orchestra, the audience follows the rhythms with their feet, rotating their heads in circles and whistling. The music comes to a robust stop and the lights go up: the soul, that had escaped from the body, now returns. The bliss of the voyage converts into unstoppable applause.

Dance of Oneness helps integrate body, mind and spirit

by Mai El Shoush

The California-based choreographer Banafsheh Sayyad will perform Dance of Oneness at Dubai Knowledge Village tomorrow and hold a series of workshops in Dubai until Friday.

Banafsheh’s passion for the divine and dance led to the creation, in 2005, of Dance of Oneness, a dance style designed to “empower through conscious movement” and reflecting dance forms that include Flamenco, T’ai Chi, Sufi, Iranian and tribal. The award-winning artist, who has Iranian roots, describes her certification dance programme as “taking dance back to its traditions of devotion and prayer”.

“The theoretical framework of this style comes from Sufism, the teachings of Rumi, the Gurdjieff Work, Chinese medicine and the chakra system,” says Banafsheh, speaking ahead of her arrival in Dubai. “Dance of Oneness is a way of life – a rigorous, disciplined, passionate and joyful way to ‘embody the transcendent in the world’, which is what the Dalai Lama calls the meaning of life.”

She credits her father, the famous Iranian filmmaker and actor Parviz Sayyad, with influencing her choices. “His courage in expressing the truth and never compromising his integrity, as well as his vast reservoir of creativity, have been inspiring,” she said.

A recipient of a grant from the James -Irvine Foundation, Banafsheh has worked with well-known choreographers from around the world, including Victoria Marks, David Rousseve and Donna Uchizono.

Rumi in Spring
Banafsheh has also choreographed a solo performance entitled Spring of Love, which is inspired by Rumi’s mystical poetry. The dance is set to Rumi’s poems, which will be recited in both English and Arabic, and features moves from Iranian classical dance and Sufi trance, while the music incorporates traces of Flamenco and T’ai Chi. “The objective is to celebrate Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, and the beginning of spring,” explains Banafsheh, who has recreated the letters of the Persian script as postures that, when put together, form words, some taken from Rumi’s poetry.

Inner guidance
The workshops Banafsheh offers have different topics: Mystical Persian Dance, Veil Dance, Persian/Flamenco, and Sufi Whirling.

The significance of the programme, says Banafsheh is to ensure that dance is kept alive across cultures and generations. “Dance offers tools to survive emotional turmoil with grace, turning travesty into opportunity for growth, leading to social benefits as peace, openness and a shared sense of oneness. Through dance, we have the opportunity to integrate mind, body and spirit, and the possibility to connect to the ‘source’ without any mediation.”