Layla and Majnun
Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Reviewed – 13th November 2018
“whilst the dance does have some wonderful elements to it, this is a show to attend for the sake of the music”
‘Layla and Majnun’ is the heartbreaking ancient story of two young people falling in love, much to their parents’ disapproval, and of the passion and pain that accompanies their attempts to be together. It is a tale that has been compared to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for obvious reasons and it is told tonight through stunning poetry narrated through traditional Azerbaijani music.
Designed by Howard Hodgkin, the stage is lit with flickering candles and the backdrop is broad sweeps of paint. Between sections the lights fall low, and the backdrop is lit up, stamped by the silhouettes of dancers in front. The girls wear red and the boys light blue and the colours weave between each other onstage with a mesmeric effect.
The story is told through a collaboration between The Silk Road Ensemble and Mark Morris Dance Group. The Silk Road Ensemble is an award-winning musical collective founded by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1988, a group of musicians from the lands of the Silk Road brought together to create ‘a musical language founded in difference’. And the musicians are truly spectacular. The voices of Alim Qasimov (Majnun) and Fargana Qasimova (Layla) ache with emotion, singing from somewhere deep inside them. Ever changing, light then fast then falling, the emotional impact of the music is impossibly not to feel.
The dance however is on an overall level, disappointing, given the standard one would normally expect from the likes of Mark Morris. That’s not to say there aren’t some very strong elements however. The roles of Layla and Majnun are passed between dancers and the segment like structure is punctuated by breathtaking moments of ensemble, which at one point are overtaken by a repeated solo dance section lead by the fantastic Lesley Garrison, a riveting and deeply moving moment. The most successful parts come when the lovers have something to fight against, the disapproval of their parents and Layla’s unwanted wedding being the prime examples. Some pairs come across better than others. Domingo Estrada, Jr. and Nicole Sabella are a definite highlight, passionate and surprising, and the dancers both exhibit a charisma that some of their counterparts lack.
Clearly, whilst the dance does have some wonderful elements to it, this is a show to attend for the sake of the music, which is worth the ticket price alone.
Reviewed by Amelia Brown
Photography by Beowulf Sheehan
Layla and Majnun
Sadler’s Wells Theatre until 17th November
Previously reviewed at this venue: