Iranian National Ballet Company

The Iranian National Ballet Company (Persian: سازمان باله ملی ایران) was Iran's only state ballet institution until the Islamic revolution of 1979 and also the most known and recognized of all dance companies in the Middle East. It was founded in 1958 by the Iranian Ministry of Culture and existed during 21 years (1958–1979). The company, residing at Tehran's Roudaki Hall, was disbanded in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution and was re-established 23 years later in exile by Nima Kiann under the name of Les Ballets Persans (Persian: سازمان باله ایران) in Sweden.[1][2]

Iranian National Ballet Company
سازمان باله ملی ایران
General information
NameIranian National Ballet Company
سازمان باله ملی ایران
SuccessorLes Ballets Persans
Persian: سازمان باله ایران
Year founded1958
FounderNejad Ahmadzadeh
Founding choreographersWilliam Dollar
Principal venueRoudaki Hall Opera
Senior staff
Assistant DirectorHaideh Ahmadzadeh
Artistic staff
Artistic Director
  • Nejad Ahmadzadeh
  • Ali Pourfarrokh
Resident Choreographers
Sister companyNational and Folk Music, Song and Dance Ensemble
OrchestraTehran Symphony Orchestra
Official schoolNational Ballet Academy of Iran
  • Principal Dancer
  • First Soloist
  • Second Soloist
  • Corps de Ballet
  • Apprentice


Introduction of ballet in Iran

The history of ballet in Iran started in 1928 when Madame Cornelli, a Russian immigrant who fled the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, started giving dance lessons in Tehran. There was no methodical ballet training; the classes consisted of various exercises to make the body supple and to cultivate the students' awareness of rhythm and musicality. Part of each class was devoted to character or folk dances.[3] A later dance teacher was Madame Yelena (Avedisian),[4] and Sarkis Djanbazian who respectively in 1933 and 1938 organized dance classes in the city of Tabriz and Qazvin. These newcomers expanded the European influenced dance scene in Iran by holding performances and dance classes of various style, including classical ballet, European folk dancing, the European partner dancing, etc.

Iran’s pioneering ballet company

In the early 1940s Nilla Cram Cook, who had vast knowledge in Eastern cultures and languages, was serving as the United States cultural attaché at the American Embassy in Tehran. During her time as the US culturаl attaché she became employed at the Ministry of Education and Propaganda, as director general of the Arts Department. Her endeavors and great interest in Persian culture, arts and literature resulted in the realization of the most extensive Iranian national dance project of the first half of the twentieth century. In 1946, Cram Cook founded the Studio of the Revival of the Iranian Ancient Arts (in Persian: استودیوی احیای هنرهای باستانی ایران), aiming to revive and restore the “forgotten” ancient Iranian performing arts. Most of the dances were based on Persian history or mythology. An important work by Cram Cook, The Caravan, was developed from a poem by Saadi and was later performed in 1958 by the Iranian National Ballet.[5] The dance troupe performed at functions at the American Embassy in Tehran and toured nationally and internationally, remaining active until around 1953.

Establishment of the national ballet company

In 1955, Mehrdad Pahlbod, the head of the Fine Arts department commissioned Nejad and Haideh Ahmadzadeh to start a ballet school on a professional basis aiming to raise native Iranian ballet dancers for a future national ballet company. The School was opened in 1956 in the premises of Tehran's Conservatory of Music. Two years later in 1958, the Iranian National Ballet Company was established with Nejad Ahmadzadeh as its founding director. When the Fine Arts Department of Iran eventually expanded and became The Ministry of Culture and Arts, Nejad Ahmadzadeh was appointed as director of the ballet academy, the ballet company and the National and Folk Music, Song and Dance Ensemble which was a sister company to the Iranian National Ballet Company using the same dancers to create and stage a nationally inspired repertoire.[6]

As institutionalizing ballet and bringing about a professional national ballet ensemble comparable to the ballet companies in the West had become a serious concern for the government, the Iranian monarch Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi had personally asked Dame Ninette de Valois to council on the formation of a ballet company during one of his official visits to London and after a command performance in his honor at the Royal Opera House. In the summer of 1958, Dame Ninette de Valois was visiting Turkey where she had founded a ballet school. On the invitation of the Ministry of Culture and Arts, she prolonged her trip in order to visit the National Ballet Academy of Iran and budding company in Tehran. On her return to London, she sent Ann Cox followed by Miro Michael Zolan and his wife Sandra Vane. Later Nicholas Beriozoff, Marion English-Delanian, Richard Brown and finally Robert and Jacqueline de Warren were sent by de Valois to teach and stage dances and short ballets for the ballet academy and company.

The Iranian National Ballet Company developed to become the most renowned Iranian cultural institution during its tenure as the country's only ballet institution. Company productions were often performed at official events and functions in the presence of the Royal family and invited national and international dignitaries.[7] The company moved to the Roudaki Hall Opera upon its completion in 1967.[8]


The company repertoire included classical, neoclassical and contemporary ballets which were staged usually by invited guest choreographers and ballet masters from Europe and the United States. The company established a close collaboration with dance institutions in Soviet Union, United States and Europe. The Royal Ballet, Royal Academy of Dance, Bolshoi Ballet, American Ballet Theatre were parts of a vast exchanging cultural program between the companies.

Some early works of the company were those choreographed by Nilla Cram Cook for the Revival of the Iranian Ancient Arts Ensemble which were restaged by Cram Cook's former dancers, Nejad and Haideh Ahmadzadeh.[7] Prominent and world-famous ballet dancers from renowned ballet companies of the world were often invited to dance the principal roles of all great classical ballets. In order to keep the high standard of the productions the company relied on guest artists from abroad to perform the leading roles in most work premieres.[8]

List of Iranian National Ballet Company productions

Year / Season Work Composer Chore / Staged by Principal dancers
1958 The CaravanUnknownNilla Cram Cook / Haideh Ahmadzadeh
1961 The Classical PremièreGluckMiro Zolan
1961 1+2=4RavelMiro ZolanAvak Abrahamian
1961 Don Quixote Pas de deuxMinkusMiro ZolanHaideh Ahmadzadeh & Miro Zolan
1961 RossiniadaRossiniMiro Zolan
1961 FiestaKabalevskySandra Vane / Miro Zolan
1962 LibestraumStraussMiro Zolan
1962 The EntertainersMiro Zolan
1963 The Nutcracker Pas de deuxTchaikovskyMarius Petipa / Miro ZolanHaideh Ahmadzadeh & Leon Neshanian
1963 Comedie a la FrancaiseIbertRichard Brown
1963 Slaughter on Tenth AvenueRogersGeorge Balanchine / Richard BrownClara Avanessian
1964 La PériPaul DukasIvan Clustine / Robert de WarrenHaideh Ahmadzadeh & Leon Neshanian
1965 Love and the ClownVerdiJohn Cranko / Robert de WarrenHaideh Ahmadzadeh, Avak Abrahamian, Jamshid Saghabashi
1966 GamesAhmad PejmanRobert de Warren
1966 La ValseRavelRobert de Warren
1966 Symphony in CBizetRobert de Warren
1966 Tchaikovsky SuiteTchaikovskyRobert de Warren
1967 Lady of the Camellias/ Robert de Warren
1967 The FirebirdStravinskyMichel Fokine / Robert de Warren
1968 PhaedraAuric/ Robert de WarrenHaideh Ahmadzadeh & Robert de Warren
1968-69 Romeo and JulietProkofievJohn Cranko / Robert de WarrenSarvar Kaboli & Amin Taati
1968-69 CinderellaProkofiev/ Robert de WarrenSarvar Kaboli & Amin Taati
1969-70 The Sleeping BeautyTchaikovskyMarius Petipa / Robert de WarrenLucette Aldous & Robert Bestonso [lower-alpha 1]
1970-71 GiselleAdolphe AdamJean Coralli & Jules Perrot / Anne HeatonAdele Oroz & Viktor Rohna, [lower-alpha 2] Haideh Ahmadzadeh & Jamshid Saghabashi
1971 - Autumn The Myth of Creation [lower-alpha 3]Melik AslanianRobert Thomas
1971-72 CoppéliaLéo DelibesArthur Saint-Léon / Anne HeatonPhilippa Caire & Amin Taati, Haydeh Changizian & Jamshid Saghabashi
1971-72 Swan LakeTchaikovskyMarius Petipa / Vakhtang Chabukiani
1971-72 The NutcrackerTchaikovskyMarius Petipa / Jack CarterCarol Grant & Jamshid Saghabashi, Haydeh Changizian & Amin Taati
1972-73 Lieder eines fahrenden GesellenGustav MahlerRobert ThomasHaydeh Changizian & Amin Taati / Marion English Delanian & Robert Thomas
1972-73 La BayadèreLudwig MinkusMarius Petipa / Natalie Conus[lower-alpha 5]Malika Sabirova & Mozaffar Burkhanov[lower-alpha 6] /Haydeh Changizian & Amin Taati, Haideh Ahmadzadeh in role of Gamzatti
1972-73 Unfinished Symphony (Pas de quatre)Franz SchubertMadjid KashefHaydeh Changizian & Riccardo Duse
1973-74 Fountain of BakhchisaraiBoris AsafyevRostislav Zakharov / Natalie ConusRaisa Strouchkova & Nikolai Fadeyechev ,[lower-alpha 7] Maggie Burton Saghabashi & Amin Taati, Haydeh Changizian, Avak Abrahamian
1973-74 La Fille Mal GardéePeter Ludwig HertelDimitri RomanoffHaydeh Changizian & Amin Taati, Haideh Ahmadzadeh as Widow Simone
1973-74 BoleroMaurice RavelMadame Tilda from Romania
1973-74 PetrushkaIgor StravinskyMichel Fokine / Madame Tilda from RomaniaJamshid Saghabashi
1973-74 SinfoniettaLeoš JanáčekMiro ZolanHaydeh Changizian
1973-74 JigsawBoris BlacherMiro ZolanHaydeh Changizian
1973-74 The ScarecrowBenjamin BrittenMiro ZolanMarion English Delanian & Avak Abrahamian
1973-74 The Witch BoyLeonard SalzedoJack CarterHaydeh Changizian & Jamshid Saghabashi
1975-76 Les SylphidesFrédéric ChopinMichel Fokine / Anne Heaton
1975-76 SchéhérazadeRimsky-KorsakovMichel Fokine / Anne Heaton (ballet dancer)|Anne HeatonHaydeh Changizian as Zobeide,

Jamshid Saghabashi as the golden slave, Avak Abrahamian as Kalif

1975-76 Bijan and Manijeh[lower-alpha 8]Hossein DehlaviHaideh Ahmadzadeh & Robert UrazgildievHaydeh Changizian & Jamshid Saghabashi
1976-77 SerenadeTchaikovskyGeorge Balanchine / Patricia NearyJanet Popeleski & Michael Dane
1976-77 Miss JulieRangströmBirgit CullbergJanet Popeleski & Chinko Rafique
1976-77 Graduation BallJohann Strauss II/ Nicholas BeriosoffMaggie Burton Saghabashi & Chinko Rafique
1976-77 Swan LakeTchaikovskyMarius Petipa & Lev Ivanov / Nicholas BeriosoffMaggie Burton Saghabashi & Jamshid Sahabashi, Janet Popeleski
1977-78 Romeo and JulietProkofiev/ Nicholas BeriosoffJanet Popeleski & Robert Craset / Nina Brzorad and Jamshid Saghabashi
1977-78 The NutcrackerTchaikovskyMarius Petipa / Nicholas BeriosoffJanet Popeleski & Robert Craset / Nina Brzorad and Jamshid Saghabashi
1977-78 Carmina BuranaCarl OrffJohn ButlerJanet Popeleski, Nina Brzorad, Robert Craset, Jamshid Saghabashi
1977-78 After EdenHolbyJohn ButlerJanet Popeleski & Robert Crazet / Nina Brzorad and Jamshid Saghabashi
1977-78 Polovetsian DancesBorodin/ Nicholas Beriosoff
1978-79 Sleeping BeautyTchaikovskyMarius Petipa / Nicholas BeriosoffNina Brzorad, Patricia Rensetti, Jamshid Saghabashi
  1. from Royal Ballet
  2. from Budapest Opera Ballet followed by Irina Prokofyeva & Andrei Kondratoff from Bolshoi Ballet
  3. on the occasion of the 2,500 year celebration of the Persian Empire
  4. followed by Mette Höningen & Pale Jacobson from Royal Danish Ballet
  5. from Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, even known as Natalia Konus
  6. soloists of Bolshoi Ballet from Tajik origin
  7. from Bolshoi Ballet
  8. The company’s first full-length classical ballet production based on Shahnameh of Ferdowsi

Artistic staff

The Iranian National Ballet Company started operating in 1958 with a dozen of dancers. The company grew to approximately 50 dancers, one third of them Iranian natives. The rest of the company members came mostly from Europe and the United States.[7][9][10][11]

Artistic directors

  • Nejad Ahmadzadeh (1958–1976)
  • Ali Pourfarrokh (1976–1979)

Principal choreographers

  • William Dollar (1958–1960)
  • Miro Zolan (1961–1963)
  • Richard Brown (1963–1964)
  • Jack Carter (1971)
  • Anne Heaton (1973)
  • Haideh Ahmadzadeh
  • Robert Urazgildiev (1975)
  • Birgit Cullberg (1975)
  • Nicholas Beriosoff (1976–1979)
  • John Butler

Ballet masters and mistresses

  • William Dollar
  • Miro Zolan
  • Sandra Vane
  • Yvonne Patterson (1959–1960)
  • Marian English Delanian (1960 -1979)
  • Robert de Warren (1965-1970)
  • Jacqueline de Warren (1965–1970)
  • Dudley Davies (1977–1979)


  1. Ayda Abolian
  2. Avak Abrahamian (Salmasi) (? - 1979)
  3. Valerik Abrahamian (? - 1979)
  4. Ahmad Adjdadi
  5. Adeleh Afrand
  6. Haideh Ahmadzadeh (1958–1975)
  7. Parvin Al-Amin
  8. Ronald K. Alexander
  9. Anne Allen (1978–1979)
  10. Jeremy Allen (1976 - 1979)
  11. Avisa Amirshahi
  12. Jenous Amirshahi
  13. Mary Apick
  14. Ahita Ardalan
  15. Azita Arfa
  16. Wendy Arshamian (? - 1979)
  17. Minoo Atabaki
  18. Clara Avanessian
  19. Ophelia Azarnia
  20. Banafsheh Bahramian
  21. Georgina Bahramian Coleman (? - 1979)
  22. Nejdeh Bahramian (? - 1979)
  23. James Bailey (1977–1978)
  24. Evelyn Balassanian (? - 1979)
  25. Mitra Behrouz
  26. Diana Biggart
  27. Nina Brzorad (1976–1979)
  28. Pippa Buck Power
  29. Aban Budin
  30. Margaret Bull
  31. Judyth Casey
  32. Haydeh Changizian (1972–1978)
  33. Robert Craset (1977–1979)
  34. Michael Dane
  35. Belinda (Lindy) Davies (? - 1979)
  36. Rosamund Davies
  37. Otis Daye (1977–1978)
  38. Rostam Dehmohbed
  39. Missy Denman (? - 1978)
  40. Yerjanik Djambazian
  41. Mehdi Doagoo
  42. Gavin Dorrian (1978–1979)
  43. Tomas Edwards (Martini) (? - 1978)
  44. Magdy El-Lethy (? - 1979)
  45. Jonathan Ellingham (1977–1979)
  46. Bahman Sadr Erfan
  47. Hilda Estepanian
  48. Fereshteh Fakoor
  49. Fereshteh Farazmand
  50. Ivan Ionathan Feller
  51. Martin Fredmann
  52. Parviz Ghanei (? - 1979)
  53. Farihan (Fari) Gheissari Akbarian
  54. Diane Gray (? - 1979)
  55. Michael Hall
  56. Mark Hammond (1977–1978)
  57. Mary Heathcote
  58. Caroline Heming (1977 - 1978)
  59. Dariush Hirbodian
  60. Behrooz Honarbakhsh
  61. Sarah Inglis Fricker
  62. David Jackson (1976 - 1978)
  63. Nader Jahanfard
  64. Sarvar (Sorur) Kaboli
  65. Nina Kavosi
  66. Nasser Kazemi
  67. Sudabeh Keshmirian
  68. Sholeh Katherina Kia
  69. Shideh Kia Nikkhoo (? - 1979)
  70. Ladan Kianpoor
  71. Jeremy Macdonald (1977–1978)
  72. Osama Maksood (1978–1979)
  73. Robert March (1976–1977)
  74. Debbie McGee (1978–1979)
  75. Sam McManus
  76. Terri Mills Tester
  77. Frieda Minassian
  78. Golriz Mirjahangiri
  79. Nader Mirzadeh
  80. Rima Moghadam
  81. Farnoosh Moshiri
  82. Abdollah Nazemi
  83. Leon Neshanian
  84. Jaleh Nikpay
  85. Judith (Judy) Odell (1976 - 1978)
  86. Karen Oram
  87. Gita Ostovani
  88. Gregory Pope (1977–1978)
  89. Mary Paranicas (1977–1978)
  90. Janet Popeleski (1976 - 1978)
  91. Virginia (Ginny) Portz
  92. Tibor Pusztai - Conductor
  93. Mina Rad
  94. Chinko Rafique (? - 1977)
  95. Jaleh Rahbar
  96. Soheyla Razavi (? - 1979)
  97. Patricia Renzetti (1978–1979)
  98. Helen Riddington (1976 - 1978)
  99. Amanda Rivera Bruell (?-1978)
  100. Vivien Rycroft Richards (? - 1979)
  101. Soheila Sadr
  102. Jamshid Saghabashi (1958–1979)
  103. Fereydoon Saghabashi Tork
  104. Maggie (Burton) Saghabashi (? - 1979)
  105. Pari Samar
  106. Bahareh Sardari (? - 1979)
  107. John (Jay) Seaman (1977–1979)
  108. Susan Sepehran
  109. Roberta Senn Minto (1977–1978)
  110. Karen Smith (1977–1978)
  111. Azar Snider
  112. Sacha Spencer-Moore
  113. Diane Spinelli
  114. Clair Symonds Josephs
  115. Amin Taati
  116. Mersedeh Tahvildari
  117. Mary Tarverdian
  118. Kent Taylor (1978)
  119. Peggy Tehran
  120. Catherine Terzian
  121. Mark Thibodeau (1977–1978)
  122. Peter Towse (? - 1978)
  123. Behrooz Vasseghi (? - 1978)
  124. Sam Veal (1976 - 1978)
  125. Ali Aschar Vil
  126. Bethan Wiliams (1977–1978)
  127. Trevor Wood
  128. Wendy Woodbridge (1977–1978)
  129. Jennifer (Jenny) Wyatt (1974–1979)
  130. Nazila Zand-Karimi
  131. Vazgen Zarokian

Disbanding of the company

The civil unrest and political upheavals that caused the collapse of the Monarchy and establishment of a theocracy in Iran started in 1978 and was escalating rapidly. The last ballet production that was staged at the Roudaki Hall Opera was Sleeping Beauty during the fall season of 1978. By December 1978 and January 1979 the political situation of the country became more and more unstable. Almost all foreign members of the company left Iran during this period as soon as there was a flight available, before the complete collapse of the regime in February 1979. Employed dancers were informed that there were dismissed till the new government's further notice. Eventually, a meeting was arranged in Bāgh-e Manzariyeh in northern Tehran soon after the victorious revolution in the presence of Roudaki Hall's workforce and Ayatollah Mohammad Mofatteh. When he was asked about the fate of ballet in Iran, he replied irately and in no uncertain terms that Islamic Republic and ballet is paradoxical and self-contradictory. The Iranian National Ballet Company was thereafter formally declared as dissolved in 1979.[12]

Revival of the Iranian National Ballet Company in Les Ballets Persans

Twenty-three years after disbanding of the Iranian National Ballet, the Swedish-Iranian dancer, and choreographer Nima Kiann created a new company in Stockholm, Sweden[11] with the support of the Swedish authorities. Inspired by Les Ballets Russes and Ballets suédois as exiled dance companies representing vastly the culture of their countries, he named the company Les Ballets Persans (Persian: سازمان باله ایران).[13][14] The company repertory is entirely based on the Persian culture and heritage and does not include any works of the Western repertoire unless they are created based on Persian heritage. The project of revival of the Iranian National Ballet Company made an international impact and was regarded as the most extensive individual artistic project ever realized outside of Iran.


  • On the 35th anniversary of disbanding of the company, on August 29, 2014, around forty former members of the Iranian National Ballet, including Nejad and Haideh Ahmadzadeh and Ali Pourfarrokh, gathered together in Washington DC to celebrate and share the accomplishments of the company. This was the first reunion of company members after leaving Tehran thirty-five years ago. In a message sent to this reunion, Nima Kiann the founder of Les Ballets Persans, the successor company of the Iranian National Ballet, wrote: ...On behalf of the new generation of Iranian ballet artists, I salute all attending and even absent members of the company this evening. Your collective accomplishment of the past time is today’s fundament on which this new generation is standing on. It is a reason of pride for the new and future generations of Iranians and a reminder of a passed time of development and progress for the art form of dance in Iran.[15]

See also


  1. Official website of Les Ballets Persans (The New Iranian National Ballet)
  2. Chronology of the Iranian National Ballet and Les Ballets Persans
  3. From book: My Life as a Persian Ballerina by Haideh Ahmadzadeh, p. 5
  4. Kiann, Nima (2000). Madame Yelena Avedisian. Eastern Dance Forum (Retrieved 2 Dec. 2014)
  5. From book: My Life as a Persian Ballerina by Haideh Ahmadzadeh; p. 21
  6. Ahmadzadeh, Haideh (2009). My life as a Persian Ballerina. Raleigh, NC: Lulu Enterprises Inc.
  7. Kiann, Nima. "Persian Dance and Its Forgotten History". Eastern Dance Forum. Retrieved 2014-08-20.
  8. Kiann, Nima (2015). History of Ballet in Iran. Wiesbaden: Reichert Publishing
  9. Community page of the Iranian National Ballets Company at Facebook. List of former members
  10. Community page of the Iranian National Ballets Company at Facebook. Timeline
  11. Craine, Debra & Mackrell, Judith (2000). "Oxford Dictionary of Dance." New York: Oxford University Press
  12. Koegler, Horst (1987). The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Ballet. New York: Oxford University Press
  13. ’’Les Ballets Persans.’’ (2002). World Premiere souvenir program booklet. Stockholm: LBP Publications
  14. Patriot med mödosam mission. [Patriot with an arduous mission]. Article and interview in Göteborgs-Posten newspaper. 2000-01-26
  15. Nima Kiann’s message to the reunion. August 29, 2014
  • Craine, Debra (2009). The Ballets Russes and the Art of Design. New York: The Monacelli Press.
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