Shiraz, Armin Hokmi ©Dieter Hartwig

Simmering Passion Under Control

Shiraz, choreographed by Armin Hokmi, is a work inspired by the Shiraz Arts Festival, which took place yearly between 1967 and 1977 in Iran. The performance premiered at Heizhaus, Tanzfabrik Berlin from 29 February to 2 March 2024.

Six dancers on a white rectangular stage. Six tall lights leaning in towards the centre: three on the right, three on the left. Repetitive rhythmic music at low frequency. Repetitive minimal movements of dancers. Bodies in shifting spatial arrangements and relationships.  

Each dancer with their right hand hovering in front of their face. Taking a small step to every beat of the music. Their pelvises undulating subtly and continuously. Their bodies seen from varying angles.

The prolonged repetition enables intimacy. I become aware of details unique to each dancer. Differences in their bodies, postures, gazes… How their movements and gestures look individual even when they are carrying out the “same” ones… Even small variations and mistakes are amplified. The dancers seem so exposed, letting themselves be seen in such plain details. Are they aware of their vulnerability or are they simply engrossed in their tasks?

Intricate. Rigorous. Precise. Subtle. Focused.

The individually and collectively undivided focus required to execute the demanding choreography reads as passion. Their subdued yet persistent drive to perfect the choreography vibrates the air, along with the pulsation of the beats. Seeing movements and timings slipping out of the metronom at times feels like a few bubbles rising up, giving an impression that the whole thing may boil and spill over. However, it is quickly brought down to simmering again. The heat of this passion simmers on and on, but never boils over to lose control. 

All seems contained. Movement vocabulary composed of concise movement of joints. Short calculated moments of unison. Rhythmic music that stays in low frequency. The dancers’ gazes are mostly turned inward, making a few outward glances into the audience stand out. The white rectangular stage in the middle is made even more confinedby the lights framing it exclusively, creating different sceneries as they shift dramatically in colours. This overall container tightly encloses the scene, increasing the perception for me, in the audience, of peering into a pressure cooker.

The Shiraz Arts Festival was known for bringing diverse works of live art, from traditional to avant garde, from various continents so that different cultures could meet and learn from one another. Following this spirit, Hokmi seems to have freely merged his own backgrounds of growing up in Iran and studying in Europe in the choreography. For example, one sweeping moment where the dancers carry out obviously balletic movements with their legs makes me wonder why, but I understand when Hokmi brings up Merce Cunningham (who himself showed work at the festival) during the artist talk. Because Hokmi’s personal experiences and aesthetics shaped the work, Shiraz feels like a very personal and emotional piece, despite its calculated precision. It creates a hypnotic atmosphere that displays a fragile yet determined pursuit of the possibilities of live arts – a self-critical labour of love.

Shiraz by Armin Hokmi premiered at Heizhaus, Tanzfabrik Berlin from 29 February to 2 March 2024.