Saturday, September 28, 2013

My Love Affair with The Arabian Nights -- Part Two: Riding "The Ebony Horse" by Morgiana Celeste Varricchio

Erin, Nina, Samara, Kendra, Mary Susan

In adapting one of Scheherazade’s tales from the Arabian Nights for the Mosaic Company, dance must always remain in the forefront.  The action that moves the plot forward becomes the springboard for Mosaic’s re-telling of the tale through dance and movement.

“The Ebony Horse” is one such story with much intrinsic movement: the mechanical inventions presented to King Sabur at the start of the tale; Kamar Al-Akmar’s initial ride on the ebony horse and the subsequent flights; the women in the harem; the “exorcism” of Shams Al-Nahar, and then, of course, there are the transitions from scene to scene.  Once I have the adaptation in a rough preliminary draft, my next step is choosing the music. 

Erin, Nina, Kendra, Mary Susan
The great composers of movie soundtracks have shown us just how important music is in telling a story.  And, certainly, they paid heed to the Tchaikovskys and Rimsky-Korsakovs who composed breathtaking scores for the ballet.  As I write my adaptation, each dramatic point conjures a certain emotional element, thereby needing a certain sound.  Not to be clichéd, but I must say that I’ll know it when I hear it.  A brief meeting with composer Kevin Keller  ( at APAP’s (Association of Performing Arts Presenters) Conference 2013 led to a follow-up correspondence, with Kevin’s introducing me to his beautiful, evocative music, with sounds of world fusion.  His composition “Dvija,” was perfect for “The Ebony Horse.”

Fitting the music to the action and the narrative is the next step, and certainly one of the most important in the pre-rehearsal development.  Does the emotional arc of the music match the story?  Is there appropriate music in the score to match up with the dance breaks in the script?  The solitary process of reading the script aloud to the music for timing requires editing, re-writing, and an occasional musical edit (with the composer’s permission, of course) to make everything fit.  Finally, when I am satisfied, we are ready to begin rehearsal with the cast.

Samara, Nina, Erin, Kendra, Mary Susan
Samara, Mosaic’s Artistic Director for Dance and Choreographer, and I have evolved our way of collaborating over the many projects we’ve created.  If I’ve done my job correctly, then the music and the words are in sync with my directorial vision.  At our work sessions, I review the story with Samara, as well as the particular emotion of the scene, whatever blocking and positioning I have already set, and what needs to happen within the music at specific times.  In the case of  “The Ebony Horse,” we also reviewed preliminary costume sketches (the costume design was inspired by those wonderful illustrations by Gustaf Tenggren) to see how use of costumes could be incorporated into the choreography.  Samara then creates the choreography,  and we proceed to set the show with the cast: Nina Brewton, Kendra Dushac, Mary Susan Sinclair-Kuenning and Guest Artist Erin Pellecchia portray the harem girls (and very busy) dance ensemble; Samara as Princess Shams Al-Nahar; Guest Artist Michael Baugh as Prince Kamar Al-Akmar, and myself as the storyteller.  Along the way from first rehearsal to final dress rehearsal, there are many changes, but the words and the music guide us.  (Rehearsal photos throughout this article show our talented dance ensemble hard at work. Photos by Morgiana Celeste Varricchio.)

Kendra, Nina, Mary Susan, Erin, Samara
 Scheherazade enthralled her husband King Shahriar for 1000 nights, thereby saving her own life and winning the king’s love and trust.  Her legacy has been a major force in my artistic career, and has given me many opportunities to share my personal sense of wonder of these tales with our audiences.  Which tale will be the next project?  I can’t say just now, but I can guarantee I am already thinking about the possibilities.

“The Ebony Horse” will be making its world premiere on Sunday, October 20, 2013 at the JCC Maurice Levin Theatre, 760 Northfield Avenue, West Orange, NJ, as part of “The Art of Sense and Soul, “ presented by JSDD’s WAE Center’ Global Beat Series.  The concert is presented free of charge to all. Here’s a link for more information:
"The Ebony Horse" will be presented at Mosaic's special 10th anniversary concert scheduled for November 22, 23, 24, 2013 at Martha Graham Studios in New York City.  Details to be announced.

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