Elnaz Sheshgelani, performer, puppeteer, and founder of Theatre Playroom, is recreating and reclaiming the Naghali theatrical tradition as part of her doctoral research at the University of Melbourne.

Iranian Bauhaus is a work in the ancient Persian tradition of Naghali, a pre-Islamic style of performance using movement, gesture, puppetry, voice, and music, enacted by a sole performer, traditionally employed to tell a historical or mythical epic tale from Iran’s past. Naghali performances were often based on Persian poetry. Here, Sheshgelani presents a New version, performing to her own text, which is delivered in voice-over, half in English, half in Farsi, the cadences of which are quietly musical and easy on the ear.

Sheshgelani presented a version of Iranian Bauhaus at the Refugee Festival at The Motley Bauhaus in Fitzroy early in 2020 before lockdown. This new version for La Mama includes her relationship with the establishment itself, the physical space and its extended family, through a performance creating a gentle love letter to theatre. A photo of the original brick La Mama building in Faraday Street forms part of the backdrop with a red cloud hovering above it, referencing the fire of 2018.

Iranian Bauhaus is visually exquisite, with the set consisting of large mobile cut-outs of creatures from Persian folk art, some very ancient images, including a long hanging temple wall (reconstructed by Sheshgelani from an old photo of a single tile), clouds, cupid type figures, a fish-like creature with ears. The images are whimsical and reminiscent of the work of the late artist Mirka Mora. The performance includes some gorgeous pink and golden lighting by Simon Bowland.

A soundscape of music flows underneath Sheshgelani’s voice-over text. Sheshgelani performs dance-like movements and gestures, moving in and out of the space in a stylized gestural kind of dance.

 The work plays with ideas of how we frame things, presented literally here with a portrait of La Mama’s Artistic Director Liz Jones in a frame which Sheshgelani then removes from the frame and takes out, wearing the ‘head of Liz’ as a crown – an eloquent thank you to Jones for the role she has played in Sheshgelani’s artistic and personal growth. Much of the work is about the gaze, how the act of looking is transformative; we cannot see or be seen in an unobjective neutral way, but we can aspire to do so.