LINES Ballet’s recent season at The Joyce Theater presented two works, Scheherazade and Resin. In creating works, Mr. King delves into his concept entirely by exploring the history, cultural heritage, and ethnomusicology to build rich yet abstract works. Scheherazade, with its exploration of 1,001 Arabian Nights, underscored a topic I explored previously in dance history studies: Arabic influence in ballet.
The explosion of modern dancers and choreographers in the late 19th to the early 20th centuries introduced American audiences to dramatic, ambiguously “eastern” or “oriental” dances. Generically set in varying countries, continents, and cultures by choreographers such as Ruth St. Denis, Ted Shawn, and Maud Allan, these works created sensational, idealized fantasies about unknown people and places. However, exoticism in dance choreography existed before St. Denis and “Salomania” in classical ballet’s arabesque. Originating in visual art (predominantly painting and sculpture) beginning with Saracenic carvings focused on a serpentine linear structure that eventually developed into the Arab-esque motif used to direct the eye’s gaze when viewing works of art, create optical illusions, and display an exotic twist. The work of Carlo Blasis to fully develop the movement and meaning of the arabesque leads one to consider a potential double-entendre: the Arab-esque nature of the arabesque. For dancers, choreographers, gymnasts – anyone performing an arabesque – this history of an Arabic influence and its contribution to today’s classical arabesque removes the idea of a simple arabesque, replacing it with a heavily layered and evolved phenomenon spanning religion, culture, art, and science.
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