Beyond the divide

Forbidden ballet in Iran

Foto Magnus Åström

A few years ago, Ayedin Ronaghi shot the documentary Shahab, which is about an unregistered Afghani immigrant in Iran. While making the film, Ayedin found out that the revolution in Iran had brought about a ban on ballet in the country which caused the persian Ballet Academy to escape to Sweden.
— When I found out that the ballet academy was in Sweden, I contacted them. They explained that there were a lot of dancers in Iran, and that made me want to make this film, says Ayedin Ronaghi, director of Beyond the Divide, which tells the story of an anonymous ballerina behind closed doors in Teheran, and her dream of becoming a professional dancer.

Filmbasen contributed financially and technically, and offered advice and feedback along the way. Ayedin’s sister, Ayeda Ronaghi, provided moral support and co­directed the film. She had no particular interest in the topic of ballet per se, but rather for the wider concept of taboos. However, taboos cause problems for film makers. This would soon become apparent, as they had difficulties finding a dancer who would agree to be in the documentary.
— We have an aunt in Iran who is very interested in dance, so we contacted her and asked her if she would help us do research and find ballerinas. At first they agreed, but then they pulled out, Ayeda says.

The timing of the shoot was less than ideal. Despite a lot of people showing interest in being in the ballet documen­ tary, they all ended up saying no in the end. The reason why was a YouTube clip in which Iranian girls and boys dance to the song Happy by Pharell Williams. The video resulted in a number of arrests and eventually also caused Ayedin and Ayeda to have no recorded footage at all – just one week before their return to Sweden. But their luck was to turn at the last minute.
— A ballerina who had been in touch with our aunt got in touch and told us she was absolutely pre­ pared to do it for us. That’s how the original idea fell apart. Initially, we had planned for a project involving several ballerinas in Teheran, but in hindsight we feel the reason why most of them backed out was that YouTube video, says Ayedin.

The problems for the shoot hadn’t ended just because the team had found a willing ballerina; in Iran, you need a permit to film. Since the Rohnagi siblings didn’t have a permit, they had to do their shoot in secrecy and had no more than a day and a half in which to do it.
— We basically left the car, filmed, and got back in the car. It was very intense. I know that the bal­ lerina had heard that some famous person in the Persian Academy had said that there was no ballet in Iran, so I guess she felt compelled to show that there are dancers there after all. Then, she didn’t dare to do any more, says Ayeda, and

Ayedin continues:
— We wanted to shoot more, but we had to accept that it just wasn’t possible. Sometimes I ask myself why I do this, but we’re showing the rest of the world that this is actually happening. There is a stage for you in the rest of the world, assuming you have the talent and ambition, but that stage simply doesn’t exist in Iran. So why do the ballerinas practice every day? Does she know what she’s getting herself into? I don’t know. I suppose we just want to show people the film and let it speak for itself.

Text: Kristin Kling