Les Nuits (The Nights)

I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard the various tales that go into the making up of the stories of 1001 Arabian Nights. I do remember, however, learning as an adult, in the history of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, about Caliph Harun al-Rashid – the Just, an eighth/ninth century leader in the Islamic Golden Age.  He was the Caliph who gave the Hospitallers of the time permission to found a hospital in Jerusalem provided that the Hospitallers would never distinguish between Christian and Muslim in the giving of care.  I also heard that he was the caliph who married Scheherazade, although that detail is now regarded as fictional.
Les Nuits 7The ballet tells the tale of the Persian king who marries a virgin every day, only to have her beheaded the next, until he marries Scheherazade, who tells him a story every night, but doesn’t finish it, forcing him to postpone her execution, until he eventually falls in love with her. There are supposedly 1001 such stories (1001 Arabian Nights) but modern scholarship reveals that only a few are genuine Middle Eastern stories and most compilations, even of much lesser numbers, have to go further afield in their quest for stories.

Les Nuits 4

World-renowned French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj explores the splendour of the much loved tales with his new ballet, Les Nuits (The Nights) and Johannesburg audiences were able to see this ballet as part of Dance Umbrella/Arts Alive Festival at the Joburg Theatre on 2 and 3 September 2014.

Les Nuits 3

His work captures the Golden Age of Islam so beautifully, and it is at all times sensuous, witty, refined and mysterious.  It is erotic.  Plenty of same sex and opposite sex seductive movements and steamy writhing complete with orgasmic expressions on the dancers faces as they move from one scene to another in non-stop action for ninety minutes (and at our altitude too).  The audience is invited to join Scheherazade, a woman of intelligence and culture as well as of great grace and beauty as we look at a world where women are expendable against a backdrop of Eastern opulence achieved with a minimalist set and magnificent, sumptuous Arabic music and the evocative choreography. The costuming, of course, is a triumph.  The girls start out topless in turbans, at one point the men are dressed in black, ninja like to portray thieves.

Les Nuits 5

Programme notes advise that for Les Nuits, Preljocaj, the choreographer, drew heavily on 19th century depictions of the myth and mystique of the Middle East in art, such as The Barber of Suez by Léon Bonnat, The Nubian Woman by Charles Gleyre, The Death of Sardanapalus by Eugene Delacroix and The Turkish Bath by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres.  I did not know the works before and it was interesting to see how my ignorance lost me the images at the time, and how the research brought back the ballet images.

The Barber of Suez by Leon Bonnat

The Barber of Suez by Leon Bonnat

All round this ballet was wonderful in every detail and I count myself privileged to have been able to see it.  Thanks to Dance Umbrella and Arts Alive.



About moirads

Clergy person, theatre and music lover, avid reader, foodie. Basically, I write about what I do, where I go and things I love (or hate).
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