After our sold-out January premiere of Arabian Nights, we asked Megan Hobbs, intern at Eugene Magazine and aspiring journalist, to share her two cents. It’s always great to know how the audience is responding to our original works, and we hope to make these guest reviews a new feature here on the BFan blog! (Please feel free to share your thoughts with us, too!)
THOUGHTS ON BALLET FANTASTIQUE’S ARABIAN NIGHTS FROM MEGAN HOBBS:
As a little girl I was always amazed by the magic of the theatre. I was lucky enough to see a number of Broadway musicals as well as ballets and even a couple operas. The combination of music, lights, and costumes never failed to completely wrap me up in the performance. As an adult nothing has changed, and the latest performance I attended, Ballet Fantastique’s Arabian Nights, did not disappoint. I was swept away again, just like when I was a kid. The intuitive choreography as well as the ravishing costumes and set design completely pulled me in to the story. The music was vibrant and the dancers embraced and worked with it perfectly. The lights dimmed, the curtain came up, the music started, and I was in a theatre no longer, I was in Scheherazade’s 1001 Arabian Nights.
Before the performance started I read a couple background notes in the program that I found interesting. As you might imagine, not all the tales in Arabian Nights came from the same author, or even the same country. Scholars trace their roots back to ancient Arabic, Persian, Indian, Turkish, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian literature. We have the French diplomat Antoine Galland to thank for translating the tales from Arabic, and putting together his version of the Nights in the 1700’s. Galland later added another seven stories that he picked up from a Syrian monk named Hanna Diab. What makes the Arabian Nights especially unique though is their format; they are stories in the belly of another story, so to speak. 1001 Arabian Nights is essentially the story of a storyteller telling stories.
The ballet begins with the tale of Scheherazade and King Shahryr, danced by Hannah Bontrager and Elijah Labay. In a nutshell, the King (Labay) has had his heart broken by his beloved wife so he decides to take a new bride every night and have her executed in the morning, because he cannot bring himself to trust again. Scheherazade (H. Bontrager) is the brave and clever daughter of the King’s vizier. Against her father’s wishes, she volunteers herself to be the King’s next bride, certain that she can win him over and teach him how to love and trust again. They are married, after many beautiful wedding preparation dances and lush music, and Scheherazade begins to tell King Shahryr a story. She tells the story all night and ends at a climactic point just as the sun rises. The King naturally wants to hear the end of the story and so he lets Scheherazade live another day. As legend has it, this goes on for one thousand and one nights, until Scheherazade has earned the King’s trust and his heart is healed.
The rest of the ballet is a beautiful portrayal of five of the legendary tales that Scheherazade tells the king to convince him to spare her life. Deepti Khedekar provides a smooth, lilting recorded narration of the stories (the narration was created for the ballet by Donna and Hannah Bontrager with Genevieve Speer). The costumes complimented the dancers’ movements as well as the set design. The ballerinas work together comfortably and with grace. Even with a packed house, the projection of energy from the dancers clearly reached every seat in the theatre and earned the company overwhelming applause.
Every ballerina had a chance to shine with the inspiring and original choreography. Two of the pieces were daring pas de deux where the dancers showed their complete mastery of very complicated-looking lifts that made me hold my breath for them. Both sets of pas de deux partners (Ashley Bontrager with Adam Haaga and Leanne Mizzoni with Justin Feimster) worked together seamlessly and almost seemed to share one mind as they performed. Alanna Fisher charmed the audience as the Princess Parizade, who meets a wise woman (danced beautifully by the talented Amelia Unsicker) who gives her a few magic items and a quest to complete. Krislyn Wessel dances the part of a slave girl who is rescued by her true love. I was captivated by the whole ballet from start to finish. Unfortunately it only ran one night or I would have come back again for the second show!
Photo Credit: Vanguard Media