Scheherazade and 1001 Arabian Nights is Ballet Ireland's latest work, created by choreographer-in-residence Morgann Runacre-Temple; despite limited publicity, Southwark's Unicorn Theatre was packed, a testament to this youthful company's success and popularity.
As the story goes, King Shahryar was so outraged by his wife's betrayal of him that he vowed to wed a new virgin each day and behead her the next day, ensuring he'd never be deceived again. Scheherazade and her sister Dinyazade conspire to tell the King a succession of gripping stories so that each day Scheherazade is granted a stay of execution as the king awaits the conclusion of the story. After hearing 1,001 stories, King Shahryar realises he has overcome his rage and grief, and lives happily ever after with Scheherazade.
In Ballet Ireland's reworking of the tale, we only see three of the tales: Aladdin, the Little Beggar and Sinbad The Sailor. The storytelling is extremely vivid and striking: the Genie of the Lamp is portrayed by Jack Jones and Jordi Calpe Serrats conjoined by a long sleeve which is used in their struggle with Aladdin; Kieran Stoneley is completely scene-stealing as The Magician, expressing pure malevolence with every move. The Tale of the Little Beggar is the comedy highlight of the evening, featuring the first protruding tongue I've yet seen in ballet. Noah Hellwig's Aladdin is also captivating, irresistably winning our hearts from his arrival carried by two men and accompanied by two women waving palm fronds - and more crucially, capturing the heart of the Princess.
Ballet Ireland is a very young company, with fourteen very talented dancers each performing a myriad of roles, with some brilliantly vivid characters brought to life by Morgann Runacre-Temple's expressive choreography. The storytelling throughout was very fresh and entertaining, with plenty of humour and some beautiful duets and solos, ranging from the King's brutal couplings with his succession of short-lived wives to the Magician's assertion of his power. The storytelling seemed to lose its way a little in the story of Sinbad, but the audience was probably distracted anyway by the sight of all of the men in tight little pink shorts.
There were outstanding performances by Kieran Stoneley and Noah Hellwig; Richard Bermange's comedic acting was one of the highlights of the show - as was Jordi Calpe Serrats in his various roles, especially as the First Queen's lover.
Ballet.co called Morgann Runacre-Temple "rather exceptional" in an interview with her following last year's Romeo & Juliet (performed by Ballet Ireland at Shaw Theatre), and this production of Scheherazade thoroughly justifies that, proving her as an extremely gifted choreographer to watch out for, and she is to be congratulated on creating such a spectacular show.
Whether you're new to ballet or love it already, Ballet Ireland is not to be missed. We can only hope that they extend their visits in future so that we have more chances to see their work - they deserve to be seen by much wider audiences!