What’s a nice Jewish girl doing in a city like Tehran? That’s precisely where Clair Symonds found herself after winning a place in Iran’s national ballet company. Yes, Iran actually had its own classical company in the years before the coming of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his strict Muslim regime saw its demise.
Clair’s life in Iran — and her love for part-time dancer and architecture student Arash — forms the focus of this entertaining autobiography (Romance and Revolution: A Leap of Faith at the Iranian National Ballet, Mantua Books, £12.99).
Brought up in South Africa, Clair’s early, privileged life under apartheid takes place in a world of servants and prosperity, along with an introduction to ballet through her dance-teacher mother.
When political uncertainties in the country prompt the family’s move to England, Clair wins a coveted scholarship to the Royal Ballet School. But years under her mother’s expansive Russian-styled tutelage leaves her ill-prepared for the Royal Ballet’s more restrained style and, when the longed-for contract with the company is not forthcoming, she rashly accepts a place with the Iranian troupe instead.
Conditions in Tehran turn out to be good — the Shah and his wife have lavished funds on the ballet — and a brief bout of homesickness is rapidly forgotten when Clair falls for the charming Arash.
A quick marriage, in the presence of her disapproving parents, doesn’t bring the happiness her romantic courtship had promised. Instead, Clair has to hide her Jewish roots and put up with Arash’s growing selfish and erratic behaviour.
So this is either a wonderful story of the enduring power of love, or a fine example of how blind (stupid?) women can be when Cupid shoots that arrow. Either way, it had me screaming at the book in frustration at the extent of Clair’s seemingly unending tolerance. A good kick with a pair of very hard pointe shoes is clearly what was needed to sort that man out.