DANCE: Cunning Concubine

Nevada Ballet takes on bewitching Scheherazade

Geri Jeter

"It's the Baghdad we all wish it was, where strange stories tantalize us but don't endanger us."

—Kathryn Posin, choreographer

Just in time for Mother's Day, Nevada Ballet Theatre presents for its season finale Scheherazade, a tale of lust, murder, trickery and the triumph of good over evil.

The ballet is set in ancient Persia (now Iraq) to the lush symphonic suite by Rimsky-Korsakov. Choreographed by Leon Fokine for Nijinsky and The Ballets Russe in 1910, the ballet was considered revolutionary, not just because of its subject matter, but its innovative form. Prior to Scheherazade, any storytelling in ballet remained separate from the dancing—first a little dancing, then a little mime. Fokine, however, integrated the mime into the choreography, resulting in a type of dance resembling a silent film. It was violent, erotic and passionate. The purists didn't like it, but the Parisian public went nuts for all this Orientalia, even incorporating the set designs into popular furnishing styles.

Based on the classic A Thousand and One Arabian Nights, the original Fokine ballet focused only on the setup story of the king's wife and her infidelity. Guest choreographer Kathryn Posin, in her version created in 2003 for the Milwaukee Ballet, adds to the original and follows the tale of the unfaithful queen with that of Scheherazade and her efforts to change the king's habit of beheading his wives. It features three of the many magical stories Scheherazade tells to the king, and Posin draws on the programmatic quality of the Rimsky-Korsakov music and its colorful orchestrations to emphasize the exotic nature of the setting and to drive the ballet's narrative.

Posin is the third guest choreographer to work with Nevada Ballet Theatre this season. Her work layers a powerful modern aesthetic onto the more formalized structure of classical ballet, drawing the audience into the seductive world of the Arabian Nights.

Tales Within a Tale

Back in ancient Persia, where kings had many wives, the mythical King Shahriyar says goodbye to his favorite wife as he leaves for battle. On his way out, the Evil Vizier tells him to go back to the harem and see his big surprise. Of course, the king finds wifey doing the horizontal polka with the Golden Slave. Seriously annoyed, he kills her and the slave. Not content with instant revenge, he comes up with a plan: He will marry a new chick each night, boff her and then behead her the next morning. Keeps down the cheating, but word does get out about this sort of thing.

In comes Scheherazade. Her plan is to marry the king and mesmerize him with her beauty and fantastic storytelling. She figures that if she leaves him with a cliff-hanger every night, he might not kill her the next morning.

The ballet then shows a few of her stories:

"Sinbad": Sinbad is marooned on a desert island and tries to trick a local Big Bird dressed like a ballerina into carrying him off the island by tying his turban on the bird's leg. It doesn't work, he falls into the ocean and is rescued by his crew.

"Aladdin and the Lamp": Pretty much like the animated film without the annoying voice of Robin Williams.

"The Flying Horse": A spoiled brat of a prince flies away on a magic toy horse, lands on the moon and finds a princess. There is some unclear stuff about freezing their hearts and then unfreezing them. They live happily ever after.

Back to the main story: The Evil Vizier convinces the king that Scheherazade is being unfaithful to him, plus the king seems to be fed up with her stories. So he has all the harem ladies rounded up and has them and the characters from the stories killed. Scheherazade gets ticked off and reams him out. The king caves and somehow, through the magic of the genie and the lamp from the Aladdin story, he becomes Mr. Nice Guy and uses his one wish to undo all of his nasty business. The End.

  • Get More Stories from Thu, May 11, 2006
Top of Story