The iconic Iranian arts festival that was ended by the revolution

For a decade between 1967 and 1977, the Festival of Arts was held among the ancient ruins of Persepolis and Shiraz, two ancient Persian cities. The festival, which was always held in the summer, was brought to an end by the Iranian revolution of 1978 out of fear for the safety of its performers.

It is now the subject of a new exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London, which has brought together original theatre posters, programmes and archive film and photographs from the festival.

In its heyday, it was an eclectic melting pot of music, theatre and performance hailing from both East and West. A number of iconic performers took to the stage, including Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar – who famously inspired the Beatles, and the American composer John Cage.

As well as music, avant-garde experiments in other art forms were prominent. American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe performed calisthenics – synchronized physical training — among the ruins. A play by English poet Ted Hughes and Iranian author Mahin Tajadod, Orghast, was also staged.

Iran’s music traditions were also well represented with Hassan Kassai, Jalil Shahnaz and Ahmad Ebadi among the performers, all considered maestros of Persian classical music. A host of other non-Western music was also represented, from as far afield as China, South Korea, Nepal and Vietnam, among others.

A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts Shiraz-Persepolis is on until October 4 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London. http://www.whitechapelgallery.org

Photo: Mantra, Karlheinz Stockhausen (composer), piece for 2 pianists, Alfons & Aloys Kontarsky, Stockhausen Panorama, Saray-e Moshir, 1972. Courtesy of Stockhausen Foundation for Music, Kurten.