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Around the world in 1001 nights.

NO ALADDIN. NO ALI BABA OR 40 THIEVES. NO GENIES POPPING OUT OF MUCH-RUBBED LAMPS. THIS ONE THOUSAND and One Nights is "not a fantasy, not exotic. It is an urban folk story cycle, brutal, poetic and real" says Tim Supple, artistic director of London-based Dash Arts Theatre. Prior to the show's mid-June opening at Toronto's Luminato Festival, which financed the project, Supple spent more than two months in Fez, Morocco, rehearsing a cast from all over the Arab world. In July, One Thousand and One Nights wraps up a stop at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, then moves to Scotland's Edinburgh Festival in August. According to Supple, it will subsequently tour in the Arab world, Australia, and North America, though at press time tour dates had not been confirmed.

In Chicago, Supple is perhaps best known for the gorgeous 2008 epic Midsummer Night's Dream, which used performers, musicians and acrobats from India and Sri Lanka. His One Thousand and One Nights, a six-hour extravaganza performed in Arabic, English and French, sounds as spectacular. Because of Arab Spring, it also may be more politically relevant.

Just as he made multiple research trips to India to prepare for Midsummer, in 2006, Supple began to research Nights--one of four shows in his Dash Arabic Arts Series--by visiting such places as Algeria, Tunisia, Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Yemen. He wanted to shatter cliches. He learned early on, "There is no way to easily generalize about the different countries. You can't compare Algeria with Lebanon."

Supple asked celebrated Lebanese novelist and feminist Hanan Al-Shaykh, now based in London, to modernize Nights, which first appeared as a collection of tales during the Golden Age of Islam (roughly coinciding with Europe's Middle Ages). In the 18th century, the French bowdlerized and romanticized the stories; in the 20th, Disney cleaned then up, Supple says. He adds that it was important to him that a woman's voice tell the story, since most past versions came from a male perspective.

If One Thousand and One Nights links us to the Arab world's past, it also promises hope for the future in our tumultuous era--and perhaps, posits Luminato artistic director Chris Lorway, "can help begin a new post-9/11 narrative about what it means to be an Arab."

The Arab Spring has already shaped the process in unforeseen ways, including the choice of Fez as a rehearsal location: Before the uprising in Tahrir Square, the company had intended to rehearse in a monastery outside of Alexandria, Egypt. Chicago Shakes executive director Criss Henderson, whose visit to Fez in May coincided with the killing of Osama bin Laden, heard several conversations among the cast about whether Nights could tour in their countries. "There are company members who say no, and then there are those who say yes," says Henderson. "In the midst of sweeping change, the answer today may be absolutely not; but maybe in 12 months there will be an opportunity no one can imagine." Visit www.dasharts.org.uk.

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Title Annotation:GLOBAL SPOTLIGHT; play entitled 'One Thousand and One Nights'
Author:Shteir, Rachel
Publication:American Theatre
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2011
Words:499
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