In Conversation with Sina Saberi
Performer, Choreographer & Artistic Director of Kahkeshān

Born, lives and locked down in Tehran, Iran




Introducing Sina
I met Sina Saberi in 2016 during Beirut International Platform of Dance where his company MaHa was performing and I was invited as a guest speaker. Then I got to see his beautiful work Damnoosh where he creates a meditative moment of collective presence through 7 plants in a teapot. This work probably has come to shape my idea of him in its poetry, simplicity and politics.

Sina’s work has a strong community dimension. He co-founded MaHa and Kahkeshān, two groundbreaking initiatives forthecontemporary dance communityin İran and helped realize the Body Movement Festival (2016) among many other events and projects. With a background in different areas such as communication, education and literature and an extensive experience in the international arena, he has a uniqe presence and inspiring perspectives as an artist, cultural worker and a human being. This conversation gives a glimpse of all of that, I believe.


This e-mail correspondence took place between Fatih Gençkal and Sina Saberi from April 25 to July 16, 2020.


I think sometimes the questions we ask are not necessarily our own questions, but questions that are somehow in trend for want of a better world.’




From: Fatih Genckal
To:
Sina Saberi
Sent: Saturday, April 25, 2020 12:00 AM


Dear Sina,
I want to start an interview experiment. I will ask you one question everyday and you will have 24 hours to respond to it. Then I will ask the next question based on your answers or my curiosities. You can also ask me questions in your answers and interview me in a way. It will be like a conversation.
If you answer quickly, I can ask the next question right away, so we don't have to wait 24 hours. It can turn into texting each other too. Or not.
Please feel free to write as you are speaking. Leave sentences unfinished, grammatically wrong etc if you feel like it. Think of this as a stream of consciousness writing. You don't need to think much to find the right or most comprehensive answer. Follow the spark the question starts in you.
So here is the first question:
What do you see happening with you and around you since the beginning of home confinement?


Sina Saberi 25 Apr 2020 20:33
Dear Fatih,
Thank you for this. I will start by answering the first question:
When it started, things were a bit scary and uncertain. I had plans set out until August and one by one they crumbled. Mostly I was worried about the economy of my already precarious life, but also about my long-distance relationship which would now face distance and separation more than it did before. I felt a lot of sorrow and was feeling inclined to fall into some kind of depression and absurdity. For a few days I even did, until one day I decided not to let that happen and found ways to motivate myself every day. I started by making a Yazdi cake which is a traditional Iranian cake for my sister in law who was in her third trimester. The cake came out awesome and I decided to make one every few days in order to perfect it. Now I make a pretty decent Yazdi cake and life goes on. I have gotten more patient since the beginning of it all and even tough I face frustration at least once every few days if not every day, I try to offer myself care. I haven’t always been doing that. Many new things came out of this period actually.


Fatih Genckal 26 Apr 2020 13:55
Tell me more about the things that are coming out. From the crumbling sensation in the beginning to today, what has been coming out that is new, positive and negative, and how do you take in This change?


Sina Saberi 26 Apr 2020 19:54
Much creativity started to flow. Many different projects came together. A whole new idea that shaped itself into a creative process. Also a lot of organizing of things that were left hanging. Physically a lot of pain came out and a loud scream for love and for care. Much of frustration happened. It took me a while to process my first reaction of non-acceptance, disorientation and unsettling, but every day I also saw maturity coming out of me; the possibility to be bigger than the pain. To suck it up and go for a hike and let it all move through me.


Fatih Genckal 27 Apr 2020 13:54
I am thinking if there is a relationship between these feelings and the creativity flow you mention: if they inform it, trigger it, hinder it, shape it. Is your work usually informed by your feelings and experiences and does this process have a specific effect on this relationship?


Sina Saberi 27 Apr 2020 21:37
I think we can find a relationship if we want to between many things, if not everything. I would say the flowing creativity has been a conscious choice. I have been trying to be more conscious during this period; more conscious of that which pains me and that which brings me joy. I think the creativity flows out of my consciousness. Your question makes me think of the cliché often associated with us living in supposedly-not-so-developed countries that people from supposedly-developed countries (such unnecessary division anyway!) often say. I have heard it numerous times: “the pressure you live in causes you to be more creative.” I have even lived to an extent the truth in it as there is a partial truth to all ideas, but when I hear it I think: limiting, biased, privileged, ignorant among other thoughts. Am I not answering your question?


Fatih Genckal 28 Apr 2020 15:25
I understand, and of course have faced myself, the cliche view of struggle breeding creativity. I don't really care much of it. I find that for me, much creativity flows from my consciousness which is deeply related to my experiences, or rather, to the way I experience things. And I find that they inform my work more and more. The various moods coming and going at this time teaches me, usually in unpleasant ways, about who I am and where I am. Much like the way you describe, I guess. I think I will learn about myself more in the future looking back at these days. I am also thinking that the Covid-19 crisis might seemingly put us in very similar situations worldwide but I also feel that it is bringing out our peculiarities more, as individuals and maybe societies. On another level, I am feeling a pressure: about an unprecedented moment where we can 'rebuild' everything. And what do you do with that?


Sina Saberi 29 Apr 2020 12:09
We think that we should always do something about everything. At this moment, we are very easily using the word ‘crisis’ meaning that we have already acknowledged the current situation as such, perhaps overlooking the fact that this is possibly a consequent of our collective “doings”. The unprecedented is a state that we refer to either as something that would inevitably appear out of nowhere and until that moment, things such as responsibility and care are commodities we keep on shelves to be consumed when it’s time! I would say there are steps before re-building to be taken. First, to look at that which we have constructed so far, then to understand together through sharing, what is not working and which walls we need to put down and dismantle. Covid-19 is a name. let’s call it anything. Most of us are not feeling happy all across the world with how the world we live in functions and how the systems everywhere are feeding on our insides and our spirit. The tipping point seems to be coinciding with the life of this virus. The pressure is a challenge to process though. My solution is to keep moving.


Fatih Genckal 29 Apr 2020 16:45
What are your days like? What do you do in your time of confinement?


Sina Saberi 29 Apr 2020 21:35
Well, now sine 2 weeks ago they are a bit less confined as the quarantine entered a new phase in Tehran. But before that it was more of a day at home, starting with a few hours of office time, working on the computer, I would exercise, do some yoga, meditate. That is a less crazy day, because there were days that it was not so easy to move out of the horizontal position!
I would motivate myself by recreating a traditional recipe, read different things and did some writing. Podcasts on music theory, literature and dance have saved me during this period. I watched some dance and started reading the Shahnameh which alone can be the biggest pleasure from the time of confinement for me. I spent time with my mother because we shared the quarantine.
I should say that my life looks less adventurous at the time of Corona, but it’s been more of a time of inward-looking and following routine.


Fatih Genckal 29 Apr 2020 23:11
I am always curious about what people read, listen and watch and how it affects them. Would you like to talk a little bit about the stuff you read, listen to and watch?


Sina Saberi 30 Apr 2020 17:01
Yes, I don’t own a TV and am not a big fan of it. I have a certain resistance toward it. but I am normally looking at a lot of dance and movement videos. During the time of quarantine as you know many things became available online and for instance there were works of Jan Martens and Yoann Bourgeois among many others that I watched. I also watch the videos from our young dancers in Project Elephant. Part of their movement research tasks I have to watch every day. As for books, during this period I was busy with Feelings Are Facts by Yvonne Rainer and as always Persian poetry which I refer to a lot. the biggest pleasure of this period as I told you was finally getting into Shahnameh by Ferdowsi. I think any Iranian should read this book and many years of fear and laziness stopped me from doing that. This book is enlightening. Also I was listening to really interesting podcasts such as Koron by Bardia Dousti. This podcast is about Persian music. I also watched a film which I absolutely loved called And then we danced by Levan Akin. I recommend it!


Fatih Genckal 1 May 2020 00:12
The stuff that you are into strikes me as being about dance, music/poetry and stories. I, myself, love autobiographies, especially of artists. The very attempt of self-reflection fascinates me as a way of storytelling and poetry in some way. I haven't read Rainer's, I'll look into it.
Maybe you would like to talk about the Elephant Project and how you are running it through the web. And your work at Kahkeshān?


Sina Saberi 1 May 2020 09:16
Yes, I have a fascination with poetry in general, but especially Persian poetry as it is very rich, layered and complex to decode. It’s a challenge reading it!
Elephant is born out of a movement research formation that we began in Tehran back in 2018 for 5 months. We then had another 5-month process in 2019 to finalize the research material and as of March 2020 we have started the creation process. I have been leading the research that involved 4 young dancers and we’ll be doing a live public presentation in Tehran during the summer.
This is one of the several parallel projects that Kahkeshān is developing. Other than that we are also working a public dance event for summer also called Somatic Days and as you know also Wormhole Ventures which is more of an online process that will be shared on social media.
Other than these, we try to support several projects of different dance artists throughout the year. Meaning, we look for resources of any kind to help realize these creations how we can.
This was longer than you expected maybe? :p


Fatih Genckal 1 May 2020 14:46
You can write as long as you like, my friend, no worries:)
During my visits to Tehran, I have been inspired by the various ways artists build and develop their own creative spaces. Where do you see yourself in the discussion about dance in İran? What is the mission of Kahkeshān in this sense, especially on the public visibility and perception of dance on a local and global level?


Sina Saberi 2 May 2020 10:35
Well, I really think despite the fact that the underground is such an exciting, political and “cool” context to work in, in terms of creating visibility and making infrastructure it doesn’t do much. The last 20 years in Iran where underground dance has existed are a proof for that. This is my viewpoint. I mean I get it of course that many of us are still doing our underground activities, but it is good to not be stuck in the comfort of this perception that: well, my life is endangered, so I will forever stay in hiding and allow this position to perpetuate.
With Kahkeshān I continue the vision I had when I co-founded MaHa back in 2014 together with my colleagues. To find ways to break the ground and come over it somehow. MaHa succeeded in that sense with the body movement festival of 2016.
Since 2017, the mission of Kahkeshān has been focused on 3 main things: awareness raising among the community members as well as the public, capacity building and community support. We are trying to acknowledge our own existence as dance artists by being present in more public settings slowly and by expressing our own needs, firstly to one another and then to those who have turned a blind eye on us for decades.
Also, in the global sense, we are trying to clarify the narrative about dance in Iran. From the colonial gaze to the exotification etc. You know very well about this I think.


Fatih Genckal 2 May 2020 17:06
Does confinement affect your work? Does it bring about new possibilities in relation to your mission and interests?


Sina Saberi 3 May 2020 14:31
It does affect me in terms of income. Most of my income comes from performing abroad and that is cancelled. I also receive salary for production and management and several projects in that category have also been cancelled, so no income there as well.
In other ways, it isn’t all that different from the time before the confinement. For many this is a period of confinement for a few weeks, for dance artists in Iran, the rest of times are also a time of isolation and confinement anyway!
But if we want to be more specific and speak about not leaving the house, it has created a whole new spectrum of reflections and inward looking which has clarified many aspects for me. The recent times have helped me re-assess and re-position myself in my own and the broader context.


Fatih Genckal 3 May 2020 22:32
Income-wise, what are some strategies that can be adopted? I know, for dance artists it was already difficult, but they did get by somehow, like you did through performing and management. What happens now?
And if this new pandemic 'normal' is prolonged, what do you see happening to dance or performance as a form of artistic practice?


Sina Saberi 5 May 2020 09:53
Some colleagues are doing online classes to generate income. I don’t do that as I feel a resistance toward this whole online modality as a substitute for “live” performance. I need time to process my position in this. However, during this period I have mostly been working on funding applications for the activities of our community through the few available resources. Doing hours of work, planning seeds and cultivating patience.
As for the possibility of the pandemic among other phenomenon that could come and prolong this phase, I cannot know what will happen. The way I see it, much will happen through the media and new forms of media that will arrive as the need is already present. As for the sharing of our practices and our art, I think the possibility of new ways of sharing will arise. If even it’s a revision of existing ways and formats.


Fatih Genckal 5 May 2020 17:03
It looks like the pandemic is going to affect funding structures in a fundamental way, too, as many more artists around the world will depend on them in a more vital way and the contexts of work will shrink down to be very similar for all. This seems to be an issue even in places where there is traditionally more support for the arts. Would you agree? Does this sound like a problem?


Sina Saberi 7 May 2020 16:59
I have read this paragraph several times in different moments since you sent it and I could never gather my thoughts to answer it. I don’t know what to think of it. I feel a bit overwhelmed as it is with actual, already-existing problems, be it those specific to the Iranian context and the more fundamental issues such as the environment. You are asking me a question that at this moment “seems” probable and before tending to a question like that, I need to address the existing ones.


Fatih Genckal 8 May 2020 14:13
I also read your response several times and I feel the same way now. These are indeed overwhelming questions and maybe not so timely either. I feel I am out of questions for now or choose not to ask more. We've been in conversation for two weeks now. I will let it sink in.
Lastly, I would like to ask you how the conversation was for you and what -if anything- it did to you.
I would also like to ask you to send me a photo of yours you took during this time.
Thank you Sina, for sharing this with me.


Sina Saberi 11 May 2020 11:38
Hello dear,
I am sorry for this big delay. I am super limited in resources and have a crazy workload to handle.
Exactly! I think sometimes the questions we ask are not necessarily our own questions, but questions that are somehow in trend for want of a better world.
I enjoyed the dialogue we had and it felt at times as if I was just chatting with a friend, at times felt more like I was being interviewed or even challenged in an experiment.
I think what it did for me was to clarify a bit my own position in these current times and where I stand, even if it is between the earth and the sky.
Because you said pictures I “took” during this time, I send you two to choose from. Both were taken in the last 10 days but are quite different : )
Thank you for reaching out Fatih. I appreciate it.
Warmly,
Sina




Fatih Genckal 26 May 2020 13:50
Dear, thanks for the photos, they are lovely. Sorry for the delay in response. And congratulations on the K3 residency! I'm sure it will be great.
I want to take this opportunity to ask you one final question: What is your hope and intention for the next few months?


Sina Saberi 27 May 2020 09:27
Hello Fatih dear,
Thank you for your thoughts on K3. I appreciate it. I hope all this paper work goes through in time for the residency. I have waited for a moment like this for 3 years at least.
As for your question: I have been planting seeds, working very hard these past months on several projects related to the dance community in Iran. my hope is that we receive all the financial support we need to make these projects happen at this point. My intention is to finalize these projects until August, so I can leave and after 3 years, focus on my artistic creation, knowing that things have come to fruition where I have left them. I also genuinely hope that policy makers would reconsider and reinvent their ways, so we can all live better days.


Fatih Genckal July 15, 2020 12:33
Dear Sina,
How are you since we last spoke? I've organized our conversation into the attached form.
[...]
I will publish it with the photos you shared with me. And I can add this very correspondence if you like to talk about how you have been in the last 2 months that we haven't spoken.
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Best,


Sina Saberi 16 Jul 2020 09:42
Hello Fatih!
I am feeling better since we last spoke. Things are still dangling mid-air and I have filtered much of this frustration that seems to be coming one chunk at a time : ) every day in Tehran and in the bigger world, we learn a little bit more about the fucked-up-ness of our so-called “structures” and in this game Iran is quite progressive I must say.
I’ve been keeping busy and sane with a movement research laboratory with a small group for the last weeks and Elephant rehearsals continue under super precarious conditions that are mixed with pleasure and pressure at the same time; the infamous Tehran mix-up.
But hey, this period has taught me so many lessons and caused much clarification on different levels. I am grateful for that.
I hope you are feeling better since we last spoke. The text looks as it should and yes, feel free to publish it.
Hugs from Tehran,
Sina
Conversations is produced by A Corner in the World, 2020
It is realized with the support of The Consulate General of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.