The 1001 Nights did not just appear in Europe through Galland’s elaborate translations, child story adaptations or artwork. It also came to the Western world through ballet. In 1910 the ballet Scheherazade premiered in Paris, France, using the music by Rimsky-Korsakov and directed by Michel Fokine. Since this performance, ballet adaptations of the 1001 Nights spread throughout the rest of Europe and into American dance companies. Eastern Europe, with a closer proximity to the Middle East and the Arab world, both saw and heard of Eastern customs first. What showcased in the ballet, however, was more extreme. The orchestra was the platform for the stories, using strings and brass rather than prose or poetry. The costumes, similar to most dance performances, were to exaggerate and enhance the images of those in the eastern civilizations. Yet, the audience did not only take away a beautiful performance about stories that originated in the Arab world. They also believed that the images before them were depictions of life as an ‘oriental.’ Although difficult to measure, my research will look at how ballet adaptations of the 1001 Nights influenced the western view on Arab culture through the choreography, costumes, and to some extent, the music. My focus will be on ballet companies either in Europe or in the U.S. simply because ballet has grown exponentially in these countries as opposed to others, and therefore have a greater opportunity to perform an adaptation to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russe, or another 1001 Nights based piece.
The first aspect of my research, discovering ballet companies who have performed about the Nights, includes videos, photos and websites dedicated to promoting the show. I have found material on a ballet company in Ireland, America and Russia. I may also use some material from the Dutch National Ballet, but at the moment I have not found any information about the performance itself. I may also use Douglas Fairbank’s film Thief of Baghdad to examine the choreography and costumes that were used in order to draw upon the influence of the Ballets Russe in their performance. Because it is a silent film, the music will help in addressing cues in the script, and exemplify a movie that is also reliant on showing their audience the story, rather than just telling it.
The second aspect of my research will be a little more challenging, but I think if I can discover enough evidence, it will provide considerable support for my argument. I plan to uncover reviews and scholarly articles (if there are any!) about the ballet productions. It is difficult to measure the impact a production may have on the audience, so I will also examine the progression of the costume design, music and choreography over time. To catch cultural references, I will look at blog posts and newspaper columnist comments and assess the affect that the play had on their perception of Arab civilizations as well as on the stories themselves.
My research will require a significant amount of digital work, which I will include in the conclusion to give my readers to chance to see the adaptations themselves. I am looking forward to working on this paper, as I have never done a topic that involves analyzing ballet based on a literary collection that I am more than familiar with, and attempting to see the implications the dance production has had on the public. I will be starting with ballet productions in the late 1800s and continuing on to present day. In this work, I hope to address not only the differences between the East and the West, and their opinions on the reality of the 1001 Nights, but also the differences between literary and performed adaptations of the stories.