Do You Know: Dr. Nazanin Meshkat, flamenco dancer and ER doctor

I had the great pleasure of being asked to interview one of the artists involved in Flamenco Sin Limites -- coming up November 10th and 24th at Harbourfront Centre. If you haven't encountered her before, Nazanin Meshkat is a whip-smart, fascinating woman and the best thing to do is just read below on her work, her art and her vision.

image courtesy of Flamenco Sin Limites

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LR: I am really interested in your two paths of life: flamenco dance and medicine. I wonder if you could speak a little bit about your path to each, your history with them, or what drew you to dance, what drew you to medicine?

NM: That’s a question I still ask myself. I am always so curious to hear people’s stories of what drew them to their chosen career path, and I listen intently on the radio and documentaries, I read and re-read articles and blogs, in search of a clue that may lie in other people’s descriptions. 

I guess, I simply think it was circumstance, and yet the question, and many answers out there to the question, seem to hint that there is something “meant to be” about it. I am more pragmatic in that I think there are many paths for most of us, and that by circumstance we end on one instead of another. I don’t mean to diminish how intricately dance and medicine are intertwined in my fabric, but if I am honest, I can see myself, under different circumstances, drawn to other paths.

For as long as I can remember, I loved to dance, to move, to close my eyes and let movement sway me, to feel rhythm. I could go on and on about how passionate I am about dance. Equally as long as I can remember I was fascinated by the anatomy of living creatures, and after being hit by a car at the age of 9, it translated into a dance with medicine. 

I walked away from dance for a few years, and when I was pregnant with my daughter the rhythm of her heartbeat drew me back to it. I walked away from medicine once, and I floated back to it.


LR: How have you approached interpreting these two passions through your work for Flamenco Sin Limites?

NM: One of the pieces in “B-side: Looking in” (my act in Flamenco Sin Limites) deals directly with the duality of having two passions, and the opposing, yet intertwined forces that pull you in different directions. 

Dance and medicine have pulled me in very difference directions. That duality, I think, is in great part created by societal expectations, and societal obsessions with “categories” – you are an artist, you are an academic, you are a doctor, you are a scientist etc. From childhood to adulthood…it’s everywhere. 

After years of internal conflict, and being seemingly pulled in different directions, I am learning to embrace myself as who I am. Multifaceted! Part of being human is revelling in art, and in science. There is so much beauty in both. Let’s let it be!

LR: A medical researcher I know likened his work to mine, as an artist that is,  in that revelling, as you put it. He said we both take on the job of exploring the unknown and that with each discovery, we try to go a little further into the unknown. What was the exploration or choreographic process been like with your work "B-side: Looking in"?

NM: “B-side: Looking in” is an introspection into emotions. The act is set up to invite introspection, and then delves into 4 pieces that look at different emotions. These emotions are personal to me now, as it relates to me individually, deepened by reflections on the human condition from a doctor’s point of view. The emotions in B-Sides are presented as separate entities, with the ultimate reckoning that they are deeply connected and make up a “whole”.

I have been reflecting on emotions since the time that my daughter was growing in my womb. There is a deep connection that occurs with motherhood, to your child, to your ancestry, to your personal past, to yourself, to other humans, and it is that connection that has been the fuel/research for this project.

I knew that flamenco dance limited me in the narrative that I wanted to tell, and so during the creative/choreographic process I have been searching for ways of morphing flamenco into telling the story I wanted to tell. The dance presented in “B-side: Looking In” is definitely a departure from traditional flamenco. 

I was lucky enough to enlist Karen Lugo as a mentor early on in the process.  A few chance encounters along the way with Ana Lia Arias Garrido, Sophia Gudiño, Francesca Nardi and Derek Gray helped the work morph into what it is. I am truly grateful to them for their contributions to the work.

LR: I have a deep passion for talking to people in science about the connection between and integration of science and creative processes, or the parallels between the decision making and problem solving in dance and medicine. Could you talk a little bit about that?

NM: I don’t see parallels; I see them as one! There is science to creative processes, and creativity to science. The more I reflect on it in myself, I see them as deeply intertwined. One ends where another begins. There is a connection that you have to establish with other human beings as a doctor that is very similar to the connection you make in making art. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but my understanding of that connection has deepened in the last few years, and at the same time my work as a doctor, and as dancer, have both reached a higher ground.

LR: I am sure there are really hard moments as an ER doctor. I had a good friend who was an ER doc, I met him through birdwatching. He would come all the way from California to Ontario every spring to witness the spring migration and he would not speak at all about his job over the three weeks he was here. It was a complete retreat..what is the most challenging aspect of working as an ER doctor?

NM: I am so incredibly fortunate, and in such a privileged position, to be an ER doctor. For so many reasons! Are there challenges, yes! The shift work and the toll it takes on your body; the inherent amount of anxiety, sadness, stress, uncertainty, frustration and anger that we absorb from our patients and colleagues; the sheer force of demands on us as a front line medical professional; the lingering memories of those we could not help despite our best efforts; living with the vulnerability of knowing that we are human and make mistakes.

LR: How do you find relief from the demands of the job?

NM: Relief? Dance. Being a mother. My daughter. 

LR:  I feel like sometimes I need a complete retreat too, from my life as a dancer/choreographer…in fact that is what birdwatching and reading about science are for me… do you feel the need to retreat from art as well?

NM: Yes, at times. But my time is so scarce -- being a mother, a doctor, a dancer, and an academic, amongst other responsibilities -- that by the time I want to retreat from one aspect, I have to anyway! And once I am done my “other” responsibility, I am ready to come back.

LR: I like this way of thinking about it. We all carry multifaceted identities and responsibilities with us. We are always us, it is difficult to compartmentalize internally, but externally we can more successfully. We can walk out of one room into another place or space and find the retreat there, in whatever responsibility or pause might be waiting. Is there anything else you would like to tell me about yourself or your work in Flamenco Sin Limites?


NM: I can’t wait to bring “B-sides: Looking In” as part of Flamenco Sin Limites to stage. It has been such a enriching journey. The seed started as far back as four years ago when my daughter was born, and it has taken shape in the last 6 months.

Flamenco Sin Límites 
at Harbourfront Centre


Flamenco Sin Límites is a dance series that stretches the boundaries of what this dynamic art form is – and what it can be. The series sits within the NextSteps 2017/2018 programming at Harbourfront Centre on November 10 and November 24, 2017.

First up is B-Sides – a double bill featuring two exciting Toronto flamenco groups: Triana Project and a collective led by Nazanin Meshkat. B-Sides will be performed for one night only on Friday, November 10 at Harbourfront’s Studio Theatre. Featuring Toronto artists, Alison McDonald, Pam Briz, Iryna Gordon, and Nazanin Meshkat, these groups have brought together local talent including 2017 Dora award winning guitarist, Benjamin Barrile. The evening offers live dance and music that will appeal to flamenco aficionados, dance enthusiasts and music lovers alike. Both groups will showcase works that while firmly rooted in flamenco language, explore new ways of expression.

About Flamenco Sin Límites Series
Harbourfront Studio Theatre
Tickets: $27 - $33
Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Tickets: $35 - $48.25
Book online, by phone at 416-973-4000, or by visiting Harbourfront Centre’s Box Office at 235 Queens Quay.

Flamenco Sin Límites is produced by Sonia Muñoz and featured as part of NextSteps, Canada's contemporary dance series at Harbourfront Centre. Produced with the generous support of the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council.

For more information, please contact:
Jessica Whitford / jessica@jessicawhitford.com / 647-701-3242

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