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  • Tanzpol: The dance of resistance and revolution


Tanzpol: The dance of resistance and revolution

Johanna Kasperow and Ashkan Afsharian founded Tanzpol in 2020 to showcase the dance of the diaspora.

Photo: Holger Biermann

At the end of May, trampolining, drag, ritual and other modes of contemporary dance from the Afghani and Iranian diaspora take centre stage at Uferstudios and Sophiensaele. Tanzpol, an annual festival of Irani and Afghani dance, was founded in 2020 after dancer and scholar Johanna Kasperowitsch interviewed the Berlin-based Iranian dancer and choreographer Ashkan Afsharian for her master’s thesis about contemporary dance in Iran. Tanzpol, which is also a community platform, sees itself as bridge-building (“pol” means “bridge” in Farsi). Kasperowitsch and Afsharian, the artistic directors of the initiative, spoke with The Berliner about the connections the festival creates on the stage. 

So, the festival began with a focus on dancers out of Iran. How did it come to include artists from Afghanistan as well?

Ashkan Afsharian: There are many countries like Iran, where dance is somehow problematic. Afghanistan and Iran are only two of them. At the beginning, we started only with Iran because that was our original project. And for the second festival, we considered how Iran was only one of these countries. Even after the Taliban takeover, people in Berlin or Germany or the entire world thought that something bigger had happened in Iran with the Jina Mahsa Amini Revolution [the major protests of 2022], and people weren’t thinking about the many people who remained in Afghanistan. As an Iranian, I knew that dance had always been problematic in Iran.  But I couldn’t forget that it was difficult in Afghanistan too. We speak Farsi as well and have a good relationship. And my wish was not to forget Afghanistan – for Afghanistan not to be forgotten.

Johanna Kasperowitsch: I can add something to this. After the Taliban takeover, many Afghani people fled to Iran and then were there as refugees. Or, because the economic situation in Iran was somewhat better than Afghanistan, there were always Afghanis in Iran. The life there is kind of problematic for these people because they are treated, on many levels, as second-class citizens. And that is something that wasn’t being talked about in Europe. 

How do you find artists and performers for the festival?

JK: This year we have taken as our focus the so-called diaspora – that is to say, Iranian and Afghani artists who are already making work in Europe. We have only one piece this year that was invited directly from Iran. That has to do with how unbelievably difficult it is to obtain visas for people. If we were to rely on a programme that only had artists who were coming from Iran, we wouldn’t know if it would work, if the artists would receive all the visas they need. 

The Iranian regime has decided to very intentionally arrest all dancers and choreographers.

AA: This is my real interest, because I came out of the dance scene in Iran and worked there for 10, 12 years. And almost all the people with whom I worked are now themselves out of Iran. I believe that there are only two of us who remain in Iran. So, I know all of the people from my generation who are working in dance outside the country. It’s around 60 people – and I’m always looking at what they’re doing. I always follow the newest pieces.

Do you see dance as having a special role in socially or politically difficult times?

AA: As we’ve seen with the Jina Mahsa Amini protests, dance has played an important role in the demonstrations. Many people have danced on the streets, as both resistance and protest, because there is a real desire and need in society to dance. And there are people who chose to dance as a profession, very intentionally – and are interested in contemporary or Western dance – knowing that the authorities hate this. The Iranian regime has decided to very intentionally arrest all dancers and choreographers. And that makes sense, because the regime saw how important dance was at the protests. And then they threw them all in prison.

Dance has played an important role in the demonstrations.

JK. You can see that, above all, politics in Iran is afraid of the moving female body. There is a strength there – when Iranian women go out into the streets, not only with words but occupying space with their movement and their bodies. And the violence committed against them only shows how much fear the authorities have of them, of these bodies and their movement – I don’t want to use the word dance here – but rather of their physicality, which is so present and conveys so much.  

The festival closes with Mourning Sociality, which is described as a mourning ritual. Do you see a special relationship between dance and ritual?

JK: Mourning Sociality is not the only piece that engages with social rituals, but this piece especially engages this question. One could write a whole essay about the topic of dance and ritual. They’re totally related – practices where people gather together with their bodies and there is also movement, voice and physicality, all of which is reinforced in community. That means that with processes like mourning, the working through of trauma and such things, they can take place strongly at the level of the body and as a communal form.  

Do you have anything to add, Ashkan?

AA: I can only say that I’m happy that we end our festival with this ritual. 

JK: Yes, we were a bit unsure about it. We thought, well, a mourning ritual at the end could be a little sad. But, in principle, it’s not only a mourning ritual, but actually something positive. And it ends with a collective meal and tea and talk. In this way, it’s a very good end, I believe. 

  • Tanzpol May 23-Jun 2, Sophiensaele and Uferstudios