By DAVID LYMAN
Who said ballet had to be subtle?
I defy you to find anything subtle about "A Thousand and One Nights." It’s fiery and brash and raw. It’s passionate and slapstickish. Sometimes it’s even kitschy – there are scenes that look like they were lifted from a Las Vegas vision of ancient Persia.
But then you could apply all those adjectives to Eldar Aliev, the choreographer of the Cincinnati Ballet’s "A Thousand and One Nights." A former principal dancer with Russia’s Kirov Ballet, he is the quintessential showman. He’s committed to larger-than-life emotions, things like hilarity, tears, sensuality, terror. And they’re all there in this retelling of the legend of Scheherazade.
Alexei Tyukov is an elegant Sultan Shakhriar, a ruler bent on avenging the wrongs of his unfaithful wife by killing the women of his kingdom. But by telling a fascinating tale every night, Scheherazade (Janessa Touchet) convinces the sultan to spare her life.
Tyukov and Touchet’s partnership is just 5 days old. And in some scenes, it’s all too evident. (He’s a guest from a Denver company, Touchet is a principal dancer here.) Individually, they’re stunning; confident and explosive and endlessly enjoyable to watch. But their partnering was tentative and uncertain and, on a couple of occasions, you wondered if they were going to make it through the lifts.
But Aliev’s ballet doesn’t give you much time to ponder such things. He races from scene to scene as if he’s afraid an over-eager stagehand may drop the curtain at any time.
The ballet’s second half tells three of Scheherazade’s tales. Mini-tales, really, as Aliev truncates them into bite-sized choreographic stories. First is Sinbad, followed by Aladdin and a wonderfully silly Ali Baba.
The downside is that the tales are too short. On the flipside, they offer so many small but meaty roles, you get to see lesser-used dancers in more featured roles. Thomas Mattingly, for instance. He’s a company apprentice. But it’s a delightful eye-opener when he becomes a wonderfully fiendish magician in “Aladdin.”
It’s worth noting that in the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon shows, the two leading female roles will be danced by corps de ballet members Emily Ellis and Gema Diaz, performers who have undergone remarkable growth this season. It’s a great opportunity for both the dancers and audience members.
In Friday’s performance, there were other standouts, too, though many of them are people who we’ve grown to expect them from; Cervilio Miguel Amador as the swashbuckling Sinbad and Sarah Hairston, who has become the company’s resident seductress, though this time she’s a fabulously funny one.
One major flaw. The tinny recording of Fikret Amirov’s score. It’s time for someone – the company, the choreographer, someone – to invest in a new recording. This one sounds like it’s being played on a $19.95 cassette player and is far below the standards of the company, the choreography and the overall production.
Eldar Aliev choreographer, Eldar, Aliev.