A Thousand and One Nights

Playhouse Theatre (Queensland Ballet)


Professional production

The Queensland Ballet’s production of “A Thousand and One Nights” is a moving study in freedom and beauty.

It begins starkly with people locked away from freedom and beauty – refugees from a war-torn land huddling together in a desert detention camp reminiscent of Baxter. A caring mother (Nicole Galea) in Islamic dress comforts the children and young people by reading to them the Tales of the Arabian Nights . Thus we are transported into the beauty and exotica of Aladdin and Scheherezade.

A rub of the magic lamp summons the Genie of Imagination cleverly danced by Yu Hui of the New Zealand Ballet.

Lavishly coloured costumes and bacchanalian orgies spin through the court of the Sultan’s wife (Renee von Strein). But not for long. The Sultan (Tama Barry) returns from hunting and is furious on discovering the debauchery. He wreaks a terrible revenge on all women by requiring his Visir to have a different woman for his bed every night and, the following morning, having her throat cut.

This bloodthirsty cycle rages until the fateful time comes for the turn of Scheherezade (Nicole Ashby). She tricks the Sultan by telling him a story that continues till after dawn. The Sultan wants to hear the rest of the tale so he spares her life for another night, and so on … for a thousand and one nights.

The beguiling, terrible beauty of this world is a long way from the desert regimen of the detention camp. So often we take beauty for granted, particularly at the ballet. It is as if dance, music and grace were a part of life as a matter of course. But to those in a desert detention centre on the far side of the world such things are denied.

We call these people asylum-seekers. Yet they are more than this. Like all of us they seek beauty and truth. The use of the detention centre refugees is a theatrical device employed by artistic director and choreographer Francois Klaus to give piquancy to the familiar stories from the ballet repertoire.

The story of Aladdin (danced by Zachary Chant) is of a man detained in a cave by a tricky magician (remind you of anyone?). Unlike contemporary detainees, Aladdin is able to rub his lamp and get the Genie to release him. He succeeds eventually in claiming the Princess (Rachael Walsh) as his bride. Rachael Walsh danced with transcendent beauty and virtuosity in this role and in the later tales, including as the Caliph’s wife in “The Sleeper and the Waker”. She brought to the stage a truly magical aura.

She was very ably supported by the corps de ballet who floated through the regal court scenes in “The Surreal Tale of the Third Kalandar”, an Odyssey-like tale of Prince Ajib (danced powerfully by Tama Barry).

The players of the Queensland Orchestra conducted by Tom Woods were in good form. The familiar melodies of Rimsky-Korsakov and Shostakovich were rendered more poignant by the music of contemporary Queensland composer Sean O’Boyle in the Prologue and the Aladdin Suite. It was refreshing to hear contemporary Australian music-making, something which our local opera producers could well emulate.

By the end of the fourth tale I was left wondering whether the use of the detention camp as a theatrical device had not worn a little thin. Certainly the refugee children and young people came forward, but to what end?

Perhaps that is a tale for the Australian people to continue.

Choreography by Francois Klaus

Playing until 16th April with performances at 7.30pm, Tuesday at 6.30pm and matinees Saturday 2pm and Sunday 3pm (recorded music for Sunday matinee).

Running time 2 hours including one interval.

— Matt Foley
(Performance seen: Fri 1st April 2005)