Wednesday, February 12, 2014

In a Word... Soheil Parsa on Forgiveness

The Said and Unsaid of Forgiving
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Soheil Parsa is an award-winning director, writer, dramaturg, choreographer and teacher, whose professional theatre career spans thirty years and two continents. In his native Iran, Soheil completed studies in Theatre Performance at the University of Tehran and began a promising career as an actor and director. Arriving in Canada with his family in 1984, Mr. Parsa completed a second Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Studies at York University and then went on to establish Modern Times Stage Company, one of the most innovative theatre companies in Canada.  In 1995 he received a New Pioneers Award by Skills for Change for Outstanding Contribution to the Arts by a recent immigrant to Canada. His own work at Modern Times has been recognized with five Dora Mavor Moore Awards, a Chalmers Fellowship in 2002, a senior artist creation grant from the Canada Council, as well as a number of international prizes and master class requests. In 2007 and 2010 he was short-listed for the Siminovitch Prize in Theatre Celebrating Directors, the highest honour in Canadian theatre. Most recently, he has been awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for his contribution as a theatre artist to Canadian society.

CHARPO: This first question may be the most complex. There has often been a strong element of movement/dance in the company's work and you're labelling this one dance theatre; why is that?
PARSA: This is true. There has always been a strong element of movement/dance in Modern Times’s productions. For me as a theatre director the non-verbal aspects of the theatre have always been as important as the verbal ones. We had worked with accomplished physical actors, but never with dancers. And this decision was made based on the artistic necessity of the project. With Forgiveness, stylistically we felt that it would be impossible to express the subtleties of the material with the text alone.  Really it goes beyond words into the notion of metaphysics, of existence, of fate…all these things that often language cannot express fully especially on stage. Dance can. We also believe that the non-intellectual and visceral approach of the dancers to the poetic metrical would be essential to the creation of this piece. With this production we also wanted to push our boundaries, take bigger risks and really go beyond our comfort zone. Collaborating and creating with dancers is quite different from working and creating with actors. That’s why we call this creation a dance theatre.

CHARPO: With Forgiveness you have a lot of Danish collaborators. How did this come about?

PARSA: My relationship with members of the Danish theatre started in 2010 when I was invited by Vahid, an accomplished student of Eugenio Barba and the artistic director of Goossun  Art-illery, to participate as a director in an exploration of a project called “HamletZar” in the city of Aarhus in Denmark. The project was a fusion of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and the Zar ceremony. Zar is a Middle Eastern ceremony whose function is to pacify malevolent spirits through music, chanting and dance.  One of the other participants in the workshop was Barbara Simonson, the Artistic Director of Laboratoriet and a very well-respected director, writer and dramaturge in Denmark. Barbara and I were artistically connected during the workshop and I invited her to join our project of Forgiveness as a dramaturge. After joining the first workshop of Forgiveness in the winter of 2011 in Toronto and getting a sense of the style of the project, Barbara thought that Jannik Elkær Nielsen and Kristoffer Louis Andrupgård Pedersen from Don & Gnu Dance Company in Denmark would be the right collaborators for this project. She connected us with them and our happy collaboration started in 2012.    

CHARPO: Share with our readers how this particular piece was born.
PARSA: The idea started in 2006 when I was in Bosnia and Herzegovina with Peter Farbridge to set up a theatre project. We met a man there who told us that walking around the town he would often bump into the soldier who had killed his father during the war. When we asked him how he dealt with that he immediately said he had forgiven him. This fascinated us. How could it be possible for him and not for others? The story of our Bosnian friend occupied our minds for a few years and it was in 2010 that we decided to create a project around the concept of forgiveness.

CHARPO: From the Fringe to mainstream companies there is a greater and greater need for actor/dancers - is this because we seem to be moving away from text/plot-driven work and towards something that is fundamentally visual?

PARSA: In my opinion, we are not necessarily moving away from text-based or plot driven work.  There are still many fantastic, innovating and exciting text-based works happening around the world. I believe that we are moving away from the naturalistic and realistic presentation of theatre. Naturalism and realism work very well in film but they are limiting and inadequate forms for theatre in our time, in my opinion. The growth of dance theatre and the appearance of more and more actors/dancers, in my opinion, is a reaction to the realistic/naturalistic theatre that is still dominating our theatres in North America.  

CHARPO: Finally what has been learned in the exploration of the theme of forgiveness by you and what would you like the spectator to take away?

PARSA: This project is not so much about conclusions as it is about explorations; not so much about answers as it is about questions. We have learned that the further you examine this theme, the more multilayered and enigmatic it becomes. As human beings we desperately need to have an understanding and a language of forgiveness to be able to cope with life’s uncertainties and injustices. This vocabulary is often missing in individuals, peoples and nations. The results are obvious. Nonetheless, how and when to forgive will always remain elusive. Hopefully our production will encourage the audience to examine in a bit more detail their own relationship with forgiveness in their lives.

Feb. 19 - Mar. 1

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