Sunday, June 7, 2009

"Grotowskian" Theatre in Iran. Tantalos and Afshin Ghaffarian's Blog.

All photos and videos in this post are published as a reference and are taken from Afshin Ghaffarian’s Blog and his Youtube channel at

"Medea", performed in Iran’s desert. Tantalos Group, 2008.

A few months ago I discovered the blog of Iranian actor Afshin Ghaffarian,, who published some posts showing videos and photographs of a performance called “Medea” by the group "Tantalos". This performance had taken place in the desert of Iran, and it was considered part of a “Grotowskian” theatrical tradition; the videos and photographs documenting it made me find recognizable images more of the style of some followers of the Polish teacher in his vision of the 60s and 70s, I believe, than the style that was developed in the last years of Grotowski’s life. Apparently "Tantalos" also had an exchange with a Mexican director, Raul Valles, who went to Iran with his group and ran a joint show, "Lemnos", with the same style (some videos in the
Blog document the fact).

I visited Iran in 2005 and traveled throughout the country for over two weeks but I could not find any expression of experimental or avant-garde theater; before arriving it was almost impossible to obtain any information about it, even through Internet. So, when I found Ghaffarian’s Blog and discovered a follower of Jerzy Grotowski in the land of the ayatollahs, it was a very strange surprise and it seemed reason enough (at least for me) to speak of it and, of course, to share it with all of you. I sent him an e-mail looking to establish contact and contemplated even the idea of returning to Iran and learning more about this unique (because of the context in which it is done) creative exploration. I hadn’t published any posts on the topic because I never had a reply to my e-mail and Afshin’s Blog had had no entries since October 2008. I decided to wait until he gave signs of life.

During that wait I spent some time reviewing his work, his photos, videos and texts ... I saw in him the dream of any artist discovering a new area of creativity, the singular excitement that the exploratory work of Jerzy Grotowski gives to every young player who enters it and identifies with him. I saw myself with that same excitement when I was discovering and working with the ‘Grotowskian training” in the early 90's in Escenología. I remember Jaime Soriano, my teacher, who had been Grotowski’s asistant in the early 80s, and how he transmitted to us the entire training explored by Grotowski and his actors, the way to create stories through a chain of physical actions; I also remembered the fascinating courses with the Potlach and with the Odin Teatret. I was living again the wonder of being inside a research association as Escenología was (and still is), and working for and with researcher Edgar Ceballos, who had direct and personal contact with Pino di Buduo, Eugenio Barba and of course Jerzy Grotowski. Jaime Soriano was a fervent believer in an actor’s technical work, he introduced us to this whole new wonderful mechanic of creative work, sharing secrets, experiences and his contacts with fellow performers and students who had been with him in Poland, in the United States or India. The discipline, creativeness and desire for knowledge I saw in this young Iranian actor simply became enviable.

Today I’m writing this post because I received a Youtube notification that Ghaffarian had a new video: Tantalos’s last production, "Strange but true", denominated as "Physical Dance Theater".

I have no idea why I didn’t received any reply to my previous e-mail but now he has given signs of creative life and now I have a pretext to share what I have read, seen and experienced with his blog, and of course to send a new e-mail to him.

It is clear from his comments and his training videos that Afshin Ghaffarian is an actor fully convinced of its technical work and his personal searching inside theater, a theater that offers him a philosophy of life, an evolutionary philosophy, and it forms its own creative universe, beyond the vision of theater as a commercial product or a product in the sense of artistic ability to achieve effects.

Although his 2008-Blog documents and information were an interesting reading and showed his first technical training, it was difficult to guess with so short videos and just some photographs the idea of the complete performance of “Medea”, and it is now with "Strange but true" that 9 minutes of continuous video give a clearer view of a Grotowskian style production in the Iran of 2009. An interesting vocal and body technical skill is confirmed by the two actors (Ghaffarian and Yaser Khaseb); you can notice a very intricate partnership on stage, with the use of rhythm and a complete physical intercommunication; there is of course a training behind it, and a strong reason for being on stage, creating. The music is very interesting and it seems it worked as conductor for the show. I do not seek either for a story or to understand the meaning, nor explanations or clarifications, it would be absurd.

I only talk about technical aspects. How would the appreciation of this performance be like inside a theatre? Well, there is no much to say about it, as a video viewer it is virtually impossible to compare my experience with seeing a live performance. I liked some images, I can differentiate some abilities and skills but not more.

But it does confirm my first observation, months ago looking at their documents, that the group would be more related to the exploration of the "theater laboratory" from the 60s and its productions of "El Principe Constante" and "Apocalypsis cum figuris" in searching for "the Holy Actor" and later for "the Theater of the Sources", than the “Objective Drama” or the “Art as Vehicle” explored during Grotowski’s last years in Pontedera, Italy.

For now, I enjoy encountering the work of Tantalos and Afshin Ghaffarian, and being moved by the images and sounds of this performance; we will have time to talk and comment about it later.

I promise more posts about Ghaffarian and Tantalos; I’m more than anxious to keep myself working on it, but I also want to complete the fascinating image of the opposition between a world enveloped in politics and religion as Iran is and a world of a group of young artists looking for a free and metaphysical theater.


  1. Hi, I am just wondering if you have been able to contact Afshin since writing this? I am interested to learn about experimental theatre in Iran (as I am a theatre student researching Iranian performance in the UK and like you said, it is difficult to find much information!)I wonder if there are any other underground artists working in a similar way to Afshin, especially his collaboration with a Mexican director - considering Guillermo Gomez-Pena's 'The Chica-Iranian Project'. I have added Afshin on facebook so I hope to speak to him soon as well. Rosanna xx

  2. I've just had some messages with him, he is now very active politically.
    There is a link in this post to his Blog in Blogger, so you can go there and contact him through comments or directly to his mail.
    I know he is working with some other artists, actors and dancers, in many experimental ways.

    Good luck.


If you are interested in using any text, image or video from this Blog, please contact the author writing your e-mail and information in comments. (comments are private)
Gustavo Thomas. Get yours at