Sharlyn Sawyer, Director
A director, producer and dancer/choreographer with her own dance companies since the age of eighteen, Sharlyn Sawyer founded Ballet Afsaneh in 1986. A prolific artist, Ms. Sawyer has choreographed dozens of new works and expanded traditional Central Asian art forms for contemporary theatrical venues. She is considered to be a pioneer of Central Asian performing arts in the USA. Through her direction and passion for the arts Ballet Afsaneh has become a legend in its own time and is actually listed in the Wikipedia as the “most notable Persian dance ensemble.” Her decades of field research and study with master teachers in the US and Central Asia encompass a wide spectrum of diverse dance genre. This knowledge base and creative passion have enabled her to make a significant contribution at a critical time in history, both directly and through the ongoing legacy of her many students and collaborators.
She has choreographed performances for the Aga Khan, created performances for both the British Museum and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, and is currently working on a performance project that explores the indigenous Central Asian roots of the original 1913 ballet collaboration for Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.
Sawyer has also served as the executive director of the 501(c)3 Afsaneh Art & Culture Society since 1997; while simultaneously continuing her role as artistic director of Ballet Afsaneh, and her ongoing work as a practicing artist. Ms. Sawyer has over thirty years of experience as an artist, producer, and director for numerous presentations, concerts, and special events.
Sawyer has received achievement awards from many Iranian-American and Afghan cultural organizations including: The Persian Center, the Iranian-American Society of New York Inc, Persian Students Association of Stanford University, The Iranian Federated Women's Club-Payvand School, Society of Afghan Professionals, Afghan Women’s Alliance International, and the Afghan Coalition. In 2003, she received an Individual Artists Award in Choreography from Marin Arts Council. In 2005, Ms. Sawyer and Afsaneh Art & Culture Society were sought out by a local philanthropic organization, the Christensen Fund, to spearhead the Tajik Dance Initiative— a project supporting the research and local development of dance and related arts in the remote Pamir Mountain regions of Tajikistan in Central Asia, that continues through the present. In 2007 the Aga Khan Shia Ismaili Council for the United States commissioned Ms. Sawyer to create a choreographic work representing the diversity of their primarily West- Central-Asian and South-Asian community, in order to promote cultural plurality and emphasize the importance of the performing arts in moderate spiritual discourse. The finished work was performed simultaneously in eleven US cities, and again in 2008 for the Aga Khan. In 2008 San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom and Human Rights Commissioner Nazly Mohajer presented Ms. Sawyer with a special award in honor of her achievements, representing the Central Asian immigrant community through the expressive arts.