A Second Act for Ballet in Iran?

The ballerina and choreographer Tara Ghassemieh and her husband, Vitor Luiz, the former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer. Ghassemieh and Luiz choreographed “The White Feather” together. (Photo: Samantha Zauscher)

A Second Act for Ballet in Iran?

A new work, “The White Feather” is inspired by the history of the Iranian National Ballet, which went dark during the Islamic Revolution and was never revived.

By Brian Seibert | March 25, 2024 | The New York Times (subscription required)


As the ballet dancers moved through the familiar rituals of their daily class, they tried to ignore the gunshots and explosions outside. It was 1979, and Iran was in the midst of a revolution that would overthrow the ruling Shah and turn the country into an Islamic republic. The dancers were the last few members of the Iranian National Ballet.

Bahareh Sardari was among them. On a recent video call from her home in Herndon, Va., she recalled what happened next: the National Ballet, which had been founded in 1958 and had grown and flourished, ended.

“All of the foreign dancers in the company had already left,” she said. “Then one of the ayatollahs decided that ballet — which he probably knew nothing about — was incompatible with the Islamic Republic.”

What would happen to the art to which Sardari, then 26, had dedicated her life and the company she had helped build? “Finito,” she said. The National Ballet’s sets, costumes and archives were burned. “It killed my heart.”


She began researching the National Ballet in preparation for making a film about it. But she also wanted to create a performance, an occasion for former members to take a bow. Her friend Sanaz Soltani told her about how her father, a colonel under the Shah, had been executed by the new regime. Ghassemieh got the idea to incorporate that story into a stage work about the National Ballet. She and her husband, the former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Vitor Luiz, choreographed it together, with Soltani as producer and a score by the Iranian conductor and composer Shahrdad Rohani.

In the first act of the hourlong “White Feather,” the National Ballet is rehearsing “Swan Lake,” when a ballet-villain dictator makes the women remove their pointe shoes and put on hijabs. A heroic general fights back, but is executed.