By Roman Avramenko
Eastern tunes were oozing through the chinks of the closed door, then expanding and filling every corner, kindling the interest of people passing by. The only sound that would break the serenity and bring the reality back was a sound of a voice counting, “and one, and two and three …”
The energetic and soft voice coming from the closed door of a dance studio at BYU belongs to a world-renowned ballet dancer and choreographer: Robert de Warren.
De Warren came to BYU as a consultant choreographer in Iranian folk dance to help the folk dance division prepare a Kurdish dance that will be performed in the annual WorlDance in Salt Lake City.
Delynne Peay, part-time faculty in the BYU folk dance division, received a request by the Eastern Arts company to choreograph and perform an Iranian dance during the WorlDance festival. Peay said it was a difficult task because Iranian dance is not very popular and she had to use video clips and written material to learn about the dance to choreograph it. It was hard because of the intricate details of the dance and technique like footwork, because of long clothing.
Because of de Warren”s unique knowledge and expertise in Iranian dance and culture he was seen as the man for the job.
De Warren trained in classical ballet with various Russian teachers in South America. He then studied at the Royal Ballet School and joined their company. After many successful performances he received an injury that required surgery. He said he had extra bones on the bottom of his foot and because of a lot of jumping and strenuous dance practices the bones got crushed and he wasn”t able to dance for an extensive period of time.
After his surgery de Warren was presented with an opportunity to move to Iran and direct the National Ballet of Iran. Eventually he was asked to look into Iranian arts, de Warren said.
“I was given a carte blanche,” he said. “I could go anywhere and I had a team from the ministry of arts and culture. I always had two dancers with me to help me learn quickly.”
At that time, the tribes in Iran were isolated and each tribe had its own folklore and language, he said. The team headed by de Warren filmed and notated dances. It also sketched the costumes. It paid close attention to details like the jewelry that was worn and the way the hair was done.
Then de Warren, together with his wife, Jacqueline, supervised the founding of the National Folklore Institute in Iran, which had an archive that stored the treasures of the Iranian culture. De Warren and Jacqueline also assisted in establishing a college that prepared professional dancers.
“We traveled all over the world as ambassadors of their culture,” de Warren said.
Initially, the contract was for two years, but it turned into 11 years in Iran. He described his experience in Iran as fascinating.
“People are very noble and so correct,” he said.
While he was directing the company he invited famed ballet dancers Rudolf Nureyev and Margo Fontaine to perform an adagio from the second act of Swan Lake. De Warren said he became well acquainted with Nureyev and they had many mutual projects.
Nureyev writes about de Warren”s seven-year tenure at La Scala, Milan, where he occupied artistic director”s position:
“My faith in you has always been rewarded as I have watched how you have developed the company and raised standards of performance higher than ever before.”
De Warren directed multiple successful companies and worked with many celebrated dancers during his long career. Recently retired from the Sarasota Ballet of Florida, de Warren said he wants to make sure he passes along his extensive knowledge in Iranian folk dance.
“I”m very anxious because I”m 75 and the wealth of what I learned is in my memory, he said. “So little of it is in archives. I don”t want to drop dead and not to pass on everything I learned.”
Edwin Austin, the director of Folk Dance Ensemble at BYU, was glad that BYU got a chance to have de Warren teach at the university.
“He brings a wealth of knowledge and his experience in Iran is so unique,” Austin said. “No one else has done what he has. I”m not sure where else you can go and get the kind of material and the kind of information he has.”