Saturday, 17. March 2018, US, Layla and Majnun 17.03.2018 Chicago, Illinois USA


Mark Morris Dance Group
Silk Road Ensemble
Mark Morris, choreographer and director
Alim Qasimov, Majnun
Fargana Qasimova, Layla
Howard Hodgkin, scenic and costume design
James F. Ingalls, lighting design
Music composed by Uzeyir Hajibeyli and arranged by Alim Qasimov, Johnny Gandelsman, and Colin Jacobsen
Libretto based on the poem Leyli and Majnun by Muhammad Fuzuli

This evening-length work will be just over an hour in length and features mugham singers Alim Qasimov —considered a “Living National Treasure” of Azerbaijan — and Fargana Qasimova and musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble on traditional Asian instruments (kamancheh, tar, shakuhachi, and ****) combined with Western strings (two violins, viola, cello, and contrabass) and a percussionist on stage with 16 dancers of the Mark Morris Dance Group.

This production will not only introduce a beloved cornerstone of Middle Eastern folklore to a wide audience in the U.S. and abroad, but has the potential to engage new audiences drawn by the subject matter. The home territory of Layla and Majnun is located along the ancient Silk Route from India, Central Asia, and the Middle East to the eastern edge of Europe. This area, of current geopolitical focus and concern, is also the natal home of many immigrant communities in the U.S.—South Asians, Iranians, Arabs, and Azerbaijanis, among others—that are not typically represented among modern arts audiences.

Though the story of Layla and Majnun has been reinterpreted in countless poems, paintings, plays, songs, musical compositions, television dramas, and films, an adaptation of this scale has never been presented in the West.

Touring and Commissioning Partners include Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, Cal Performances, Sadler’s Wells, Meany Center, Hopkins Center, and University Musical Society.

Additionally, the presentation of Mark Morris Dance Group was made possible by the New England Foundation for the Arts’ National Dance Project, with lead funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Founded in New York in 1980, the internationally-renowned Mark Morris Dance Group (MMDG) has received “highest praise for their technical aplomb, their musicality, and their sheer human authenticity.” (Bloomberg News). MMDG spent three years in residence at Brussels’ Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie as Belgium’s national dance company, returning to the United States in 1991.

The Dance Group is distinguished as the only modern dance company with a commitment to live music at every performance, founding the MMDG Music Ensemble in 1996. MMDG also regularly collaborates with eminent musicians across genres, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, jazz **** The Bad Plus, the London Symphony Orchestra, baroque orchestras Tafelmusik and Philharmonia Baroque, as well as opera companies such as The Metropolitan Opera and the English National Opera.

Community engagement is a vital component of the Dance Group. Through the organization’s Access/MMDG programming, it integrates opportunities for dance, music, talks, and education at its Brooklyn home, the Mark Morris Dance Center, as well as on tour around the world.

Inspired by the exchange of ideas and traditions along the historical Silk Road, cellist Yo-Yo Ma established Silkroad in 1998 to explore how the arts can advance global understanding. Since 2000, the musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble have led Silkroad’s work to connect the world through the arts, focusing in three areas: musical performances, learning programs, and cultural entrepreneurship. Representing dozens of nationalities and musical traditions, the musicians of the Ensemble model new forms of cultural exchange through performances, workshops, and residencies. The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, a documentary by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From Stardom), premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2015 and was released in theatres June 2016.

Alim Qasimov is a prominent mugham singer named a “Living National Treasure” of Azerbaijan. He has been passionate about mugham since his early childhood, but did not pursue a career in music until the age of nineteen, after various jobs as an agricultural worker and driver. Qasimov studied at the Asaf Zeynalli Music College (1978-1982) and the Azerbaijan University of Arts (1982-1989). His teacher was well-known mugham singer Aghakhan Abdullayev. Qasimov perceives and presents mugham not only as an ancient art and a part of Azerbaijan’s musical and cultural heritage but also as a constantly developing tradition. His performing style is unique, combining deep knowledge of centuries-old rules of mugham with challenging innovations, willingly juxtaposing mugham with other music styles, such as jazz and contemporary composition. Qasimov was awarded the International IMC-UNESCO Music Prize in 1999 in recognition of his musical contributions to world peace. Past winners of this prize include Yehudi Menuhin, Ravi Shankar, Olivier Messiaen and Daniel Barenboim. Qasimov’s numerous awards also include the title of the People’s Artist of Azerbaijan, the highest artistic rank in the country. On his 50th birthday in 2007, the President of Azerbaijan awarded Qasimov the Medal of Glory.

Fargana Qasimova, Alim Qasimov’s daughter and protégée, is an accomplished mugham singer. Her father has been the major influence in her life and career. Qasimova grew up with sounds of mugham and verses from the classical poetry of Azerbaijan and from the age of four, often performed along with her father at home and first joined him on tour at the age of sixteen. She studied mugham at the Azerbaijan National Conservatory (1996-2000) and performs frequently with Qasimov both in Azerbaijan and internationally and has earned recognition as a master of mugham. In 1999, Love’s Deep Ocean, a CD featuring Qasimov and Qasimova, was released by Network Medien in Frankfurt, Germany. In 2002 at the Women’s Voices Festival in Belgium, Qasimova made her first appearance as a soloist. She has performed with the Silk Road Ensemble and has been featured in the 53-minute-long documentary Meditation Day, produced in Belgium in 2006.

Layla and Majnun 17.03.2018 Chicago, Illinois USA

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