Melbourne International Arts Festival to host the Australian premiere of Layla and Majnun

MIAF 2018 Layla and Majnun - photo by Beowulf SheehanA classic Middle Eastern story of love created by renowned American choreographer Mark Morris and Silkroad Ensemble, Melbourne International Arts Festival will present the Australian premiere of Layla and Majnun in an exclusive season at Arts Centre Melbourne this October.

Performing in Australia for the first time, virtuosic musicians from the celebrated Silkroad Ensemble, founded by legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma, will fuse musical traditions across cultures, alongside sixteen dancers from the Mark Morris Dance Group in their Melbourne premiere, inspired by ballet, modern and folk dance and led by one of the most gifted choreographers in the world.

Central to the work are Azerbaijani mugham vocalists, Alim Qasimov alongside his daughter and protégée Fargana Qasimova, whose vocal commands have earned them rockstar status, including a UNESCO Music Prize – one of the most prestigious international prizes in music.

The tale of Layla and Majnun – the story of would-be lovers doomed to separation and death which has transfixed humanity for millennia, will be presented in the largest-scale production of this modern classic ever seen in the West.

Backed by a dazzling stage and costume design by the late Howard Hodgkin, one of Britain’s greatest contemporary artists, the stunning set will feature a backdrop of his famous painting Love and Death which will be accented by flowing gowns and tunics in coral and blue.

“This work made its debut over one hundred years ago as the Middle East’s first opera,” says Melbourne Festival’s Artistic Director, Jonathan Holloway. “Today, this traditional tale has been reworked by the finest artists of our generation for audiences of the 21st century in a special co-commission with Melbourne Festival.

“Specially invited by one of the world’s greatest cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, to interpret the Silkroad Ensemble’s new chamber arrangement through movement, Mark Morris has delivered a complete feast for the eyes and ears in this re-imagining of Layla and Majnun.”

Pre-dating Romeo and Juliet by a thousand years, this tragedy of unfulfilled yearning, as described by Mark Morris as “an enlightening tragedy – a visually, musically and choreographically unified and self-contained concert piece” – is ultimately elevated into a communal celebration of love’s power to penetrate even the hardest of hearts.

Since founding Mark Morris Dance Group in 1980, the award-winning choreographer has created over 150 works including 22 ballets and 20 operas. Described as “an innovator and a conservative, a satirist and a romantic” (The New Yorker), Morris has been ranked as among the top five American choreographers of today.

Layla and Majnun will be presented in the State Theatre – Arts Centre Melbourne: 10 – 13 October. Tickets on sale Friday 15 June – 12.00pm. The full Melbourne Festival program will be announced on 25 July 2018. For more information, visit: for details.

Image: Layla and Majnun – photo by Beowulf Sheehan