San Francisco meets Iranian culture

November 14-17; Interview with writer/creator Niloufar Talebi


San Francisco meets Iranian culture
by Lalé Shahparaki Welsh

The Iranian Literary Arts Festival (ILAF) is a week long festival that celebrates the literary and high brow works of Contemporary Iranian writers, poets, filmmakers, and artists, starting Tuesday November 13th through Saturday November 17th, 2007 at Theatre Artaud in San Francisco. [Schedule details]

Two nights of film screenings, three nights of theatre, food, dance parties, one black tie Gala (hosted by philanthropist Bita Daryabari, Mayor Gavin Newsom, and Ross Mirakrimi just to name a few) a book store, and a morning of panel discussions and keynotes about Iranian Literature.

The timing, the genre, and even venue signify an edgy twist in the sensibilities of the (add) Iranian diaspora, hungry for the sort of cultural upgrade that is way overdue. ILAF offers just that, and it is refreshingly different from the same old style of the “tried and true”.[PHOTOS]

In a recent interview Niloufar Talebi, the visionary behind the Festival and creator of ICARUS/RISE, got to the heart of this unusual event:

People are talking about ICARUS/RISE, which is the center of the festival. Is it a play?
It’s much more than a play. ICARUS/RISE is a multimedia theatrical piece based on new Iranian poetry, created in collaboration with composer, Bobak Salehi, and choreographer and video artist, Alex Ketley (formerly of SF and LINES Ballet). We have 11 artists on stage, telling the story with dance, live music, recitation, and video. The 9 poets whose poems create the script are all living poets of 3 different generations. Their provocative voices challenge their past, their new identities, sexual politics and the current state of the world.

So what’s with the Greek reference to Icarus?
ICARUS/RISE re-interprets the Greek myth of Icarus, who escaped from the prison of a labyrinth with wings that his father, Daedalus, fashioned out of feathers and wax. Daedalus warned his son not to fly too close to the sun or his wings would melt. Icarus, bewitched by the beauty of the sun, flew too high and then plunged to his death on earth. In western mythology, Icarus symbolizes the “romantic artist”, the one who risks all in the pursuit of beauty/truth.

So you’re drawing a parallel between the Iranian experience and a Greek tragedy?
The title, ICARUS/RISE is a continuation (change) of the myth because it suggests the possibility of a second, imaginary rise. ICARUS/RISE relates the myth of Icarus to the Iranian Revolution and to the experience of those who fled their homeland in its wake. It traces the journey from loss and exile to a triumphant regaining of balance and renewal. Dramatic poetry recitation is a age-old art form in Iran, one that ICAURS/RISE bends, fuses with new elements and pushes forward. [PHOTOS]

* Schedule details and all other information at



Icarus is actually a perfect metaphor for us!

by 1 (not verified) on

Apparently the fascination with only one flying object namely the Phoenix (actually Marj the Simorgh is not a Phoenix!) is all we can contemplate when it comes to flying. The story of Icarus is actually a perfect metaphor for us, if you would get it, and then allow it. Here's the story (hopefully this won't ruin what looks to be an awesome theatrical event), In order to escape their imprisonment (sound familiar?) Daedelus fashions wings of feathers and wax for him and his son Icarus. Prior to their escape, Daedelus warns his son not to fly too high and near the sun, or too low to the sea, to avoid disaster (sound familiar?). But invigorated with the sensation of flying and "freedom" (still don't get it?), Icarus ignored his father and flew too close to the sun and you know the rest. The highly appropriate metaphor, is for all Iranians to be careful when we gain our freedom, and not to squander it or risk losing everything. But the main metaphor implied by this theatrical piece is the metaphor of those of us who have gained our freedom by leaving Iran, and a reminder to us not to squander the opportunity we have been given. How appropriate does Icarus sound now? There are many such metaphors and vast mythologies that can actually apply to us and our situation, that are not in fact of Persian origin. Amazing isn't it!


See it first

by Reza F (not verified) on

I don't think it's possible to talk about Icarus/Rise before seeing it. I'm a musician interested in this kind of "hamkaari" and I'm going to drive from Sacramento to see it. Then I'll post my comments.


Keywords: Established and Culture At Large

by bee-farhang intolerant (not verified) on

If you had actually gone to cultural events, you would know that San Francisco Ballet and Alonzo King's Lines Ballet are INTERNATIONALLY-ESTABLISHED Bay Area companies! And no, not ALL projects must exclusively involve Iranian groups!



by ladan K (not verified) on

Alex Kettly is pretty established. I don't think he'd be at all interested in dancing with Darvag or Shahrzad (whoever they are!)
I'm glad to see this kind of improvement in our standards. I wish they would come to Houston, where I live.


Role of Translation and Artists

by Scholar who understands artists (not verified) on

The goal of "translation"--textual, or multimedia renditions--and exposing a literature to new target audiences is to ENGAGE them. (How many of your relatives have passionately translated Shamlou, Sepehri or Farrokhzad at home, and why do they still not have engaged global audiences?) While "ghoghnous/phoenix" is an eastern magical firebird which embodies rising out of ashes, Icarus, is a greek myth about rising and falling, which resonates with the western target audience, engaging them immediately, which then exposes them to new Iranian literature (BINGO! Mission accomplished!), without resorting to orientalist audience-pleasing techniques, which many resort to. As a scholar who values artists, I suggest you pay attention. (Marj, please read more about Icarus vs. Daedalus as "romantic" vs. "rational" archetypes).

Iranians and hyphenated Iranians, please do not consider yourselves as the target audience for efforts to introduce Iranian culture and engage it with the world at large; you are only a fraction of it. Please lift your heads up out of your local universes and take a look at the greater context. Is this attitude why your culture has been isolated and marginalized, I wonder?


Nappy--Consider yourself caught!

by olagh catcher (not verified) on

I have been a part of the "established Bay Area Iranian Community" for over 20 years and witnessed you all showing up in droves for everything from checking out each other's new outfits to the opening of a paper bag--so long as there was free food and drink & some deed o bazdeed.
Get off your fat duff and find some hosele fast so you might actually be enlightened! (Just a bit would help).


Excuse me scholars, if you

by Marj (not verified) on

Excuse me scholars, if you had named your project Phoenix (the legendary bird rising from its own ashes symbolizing revival and rebirth out of one's suffering and demise) would be much more appropriate. Icarus does not symbolize a "romantic artist" but a "deluded truth-seeker", whoever said that Icarus was a romantic anyway? The romanticism era is over, and what does romanticism have to do with the Iranian diasporic experience???


gotta be kidding!

by nappy (not verified) on

"High brow"? The established Bay Area Iranian groups don't have hosele for this kind of posing.


Is there any established Bay

by Anon (not verified) on

Is there any established Bay Area Iranian group such as Darvag theater group or Shahrzad dance group involved with this project?