On the Rise: Parisa Khobdeh

July 24, 2007

There’s a hint of abandon in the way Parisa Khobdeh dances. Her movement has a free and easy quality. The steps seem to flow effortlessly, as though she’d heard the music for the first time and couldn’t stop dancing. Her elegantly chiseled features become animated as she performs, and her joy seems infectious. “She makes it fun,” says Taylor, “which is the way it’s supposed to look.”


Rehearsing an Airs duet recently in the company’s Soho studios, Khobdeh throws herself into Richard Chen See’s arms, their eyes meeting as he deftly catches her. Her gusto adds a flirtatious element to their push-pull partnering, a dash of the erotic in a piece that highlights the orderly rhythms of its Baroque score.


Critics have started singling her out, as has Taylor. This year he cast Khobdeh in his newest piece, Lines of Loss, which will debut at the company’s City Center season in New York this month. “Parisa is lively and vital, and she keeps trying to increase her range,” says Taylor. “I wanted her to have the challenge of working directly with me, and me with her.”


Khobdeh, 26, began dancing early. Her parents, both Iranian, were studying in the United States when the Shah was overthrown in 1979, and decided to stay. Her father settled his family in Plano, Texas and went into business. Like many immigrant children, Khobdeh credits her success to her family’s hard work and support. “My parents leapt into the unknown,” she says, “and sacrificed their dreams for me and my brother.”


Her mother had wanted to dance herself and brought her daughter to ballet school when Khobdeh turned 3. “It was a way for my mom to ensure I had some form of discipline,” she says. “I loved it, but my line wasn’t perfection and I knew I was never going to be a ballerina.” She found herself more at home a few years later at a nearby studio that emphasized modern and improvisation. “It was an awakening,” she says, “to find I could move to music without tendu, plié.”


She danced through her teens, eventually returning to ballet, but planned on a pre-med track when she went to Southern Methodist University. Then she took some dance courses, including one that introduced her to Martha Graham’s work, and she began performing. She realized that she wanted a professional career. The decisive moment in her plans came unexpectedly. In 2002, Khobdeh went to an American Dance Festival intensive and was in the audience when The Paul Taylor Company premiered Promethean Fire, his life-affirming answer to the 9/11 attacks. “I thought, ‘This is it; this is what I want,’ ” she remembers. “When Lisa Viola willed herself across the stage into Patrick Corbin’s arms, I believed in magic.” Khobdeh took a Taylor intensive as she finished her academic credits, and auditioned for the company that spring. They took her.


Taylor’s high-energy choreography has proved an exciting outlet. “A lot of Paul’s work is very athletic, and you have to throw yourself off a cliff every time,” Khobdeh says. “It’s thrilling when you get to that point.” She also admires Taylor’s male choreography and wishes that she could dance the Cloven Kingdom quartet. “Their movement is so primal,” she says enviously. “I want to be the hunter as well as the hunted.”


Nevertheless, she has a distinctly feminine presence onstage. “She’s an eye-popper,” Taylor says. “People spot her even when she’s in the back. I think one of the first things I noticed was her lovely smile.” He praises her technique, enthusiasm and discipline in rehearsal, which are evident at the Airs runthrough. Khobdeh listens attentively to corrections, and steps to one side to work out a problem with her arms. Then she runs through it again, pausing from time to time to fix small details. While she performs each step fully and faithfully, she brings her own emphasis to the movement. “I like the theatricality of dance,” says Khobdeh, who has taken drama courses and appeared in studio theater productions. “In a utopia, if I could have everything I wanted, I’d fuse dance and theater.”


In the meantime, she appreciates the opportunities she’s getting at the company. “We all choose to do what we do,” she says. “I love doing Paul’s work because it’s some of the best there is.”


Hanna Rubin is
Dance Magazine’s managing editor.