Epic Weekend brings Persian hero’s tale to Vancouver

Rostam and the White Demon | Photo by Kira Van Deusen

Rostam and the White Demon | Photo by Kira Van Deusen

The power of stories to capture the imagination and bring people together spans all cultures. Epic Weekend, a yearly event organized by the Vancouver Society of Storytelling (VSOS), celebrates some of the greatest stories ever told by performing them the way they were meant to be experienced – live and out loud – over the course of an entire weekend.

This year’s event, featuring the story of Rostam and his horse Rakhsh from the Persian epic Shahnameh, takes place May 2 to 4 at the West Vancouver Community Centre and is set to attract audiences from the Lower Mainland and beyond.

“People come from all over Canada and the U.S. for it. You usually make reservations,” says lead organizer Kira Van Deusen, who has been involved in Epic Weekend since its inception in 2001.

Telling tales

Epic Weekend was inspired when a VSOS member attended a weekend-long performance of the Illiad in Ottawa and urged the society to stage something similar in Vancouver. Every year since, over two dozen storytellers have each told a part of an epic chosen by the society over a weekend.

Epic Weekend organisers Feloor Talebi (left) and Kira Van Deusen (right) in Iran | Photo by Hossein Mashreghi

Epic Weekend organisers Feloor Talebi (left) and Kira Van Deusen (right) in Iran | Photo by Hossein Mashreghi

VSOS members are among the storytellers. Van Deusen has told parts in many epics, and a lot of the other members of the society have as well. One is Narges Govahi, who is participating in her second Epic Weekend this year.

“I was introduced by one of my teachers to [Van Deusen] and she told me about the project. I am one of the story tellers, and I plan on being involved in the future,” says Govahi.

As someone of Persian descent, Govahi has personal ties to this year’s tale.

“This epic is based on my personal tradition. I really love to introduce our tradition to others. I really love to share that knowledge,” she says.

She also believes that the story is an important and inspiring one for Persians to know.

“He [Rostam] was part of our culture for thousands of years. You can connect to his spirit very well. For my people, my country is full of defeat and discouragement. He is a symbol of hope,” she says.

Rostam and Rakhsh

The Tale of Rostam comes from the epic poem Shahnameh, written by the Persian poet Ferdowski somewhere between 977 and 1010 CE. It is the national epic of Iran and Persian speakers in countries across Southern Asia. Rostam is known for his strength, loyalty and bravery. He is a negahban, a protector of the monarchy.

He is the ultimate champion, and he seeks a horse to match his strength and stamina. After several days he finds a young colt that matches that description. He wrestles the colt to the ground and lassos him.

When he asks the herdsman for the horse’s price, the herdsman replies ‘If you are Rostam, then mount him and defend the land of Iran. The price of this horse is Iran itself, and mounted on his back you will be the world’s savior.’

Rostam takes the horse and names it Rakhsh, which means “Thunder.” The horse pays dividends when Rostam must rescue the king Kay-Kavus who had been imprisoned by the White Demon. When Rostam lays down wearily to rest, a lion appears and threatens to kill man and horse. Rakhsh kills the beast by himself without disturbing his master. After seven labours, Rostam kills the White Demon and restores the eyesight of the king, who had been blinded by the sorcery of the demons.

“I’m really proud about this story,” says Govahi. “Persians look up to Rostam. More in the old days; now in the modern times we are more separated, but I think it is important that we remember him. He has all the characteristics of a hero.”

Epic Weekend

May 2, 7–10 p.m.

May 3, 11:30 a.m.–10:00 p.m.

May 4, 10:30 a.m.–2 p.m.

West Vancouver Cultural Centre 2121 Marine Drive, West Vancouver