The show opens with guest artists Kamila Nabiyeva and Miralam Miralamov. They sing and play percussion in the traditional Azerbaijani music style called Mugham. It is entrancing. Minimal English surtitles are displayed above the stage. It’s enough to follow the story but not too much that you’re distracted from the performance.
Then the full company enters. 19 dancers from the Mark Morris group glide gracefully around the stage, executing the expressive choreography with flawless technique and passion. The full Silkroad Ensemble is led by Alim Qasimov, one of the world’s foremost Mugham singers and musicians, and his daughter Fargana, singing Mugham vocals accompanied by 10 musicians.
The male dancers adorn gentle blue silk kurtas, in contrast to the women’s vibrant long orange dresses. The costumes were effective, particularly by indicating which dancers were playing Layla and Majnun with a white scarf (eight dancers took on the roles throughout the performance).
In the poem, however, the divide is between Layla and Majnun’s family. Having the male and female dancers in opposing colours made that the division visually. Such a dramatic story could also have used more intense lighting. The stage was fully lit for much of the performance, which did not contribute to the atmosphere of the show.
The show is the culmination of contributions by artists and consultants from all over the world and in particular some of Azerbaijan’s finest experts. It is based on a tale that originated among the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian Peninsula and made famous by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi.
This performance is based on Azerbaijani poet Muhammad Fuzuli’s version of the story. It was transformed into an opera in 1908 by Azerbaijani composer Uzeyir Hajibeyli. Musicologist Aida Huseynova, was a consultant and translator (along with Isabelle Hunter) for the show and spoke about it at the Wheeler Centre earlier in the week.
This rendition of Layla and Majnun is mesmerizingly beautiful. It will transport you to another place, just like these famous protagonists. A truly global performance fitting for the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Layla and Majnun
State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne, 100 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Performance: Wednesday 10 October 2018 – 8.00pm
Season continues to 13 October 2018
Information and Bookings: www.festival.melbourne
Image: Layla and Majnun – photo by Beowulf Sheehan
Review: Sophia Dickinson