Moonlit Arabian Nights
Daytime is overrated. Who needs sunshine, when the most interesting things happen after dark? Now, there’s one more item to add to that list: Moonlit Arabian Nights, playing April 14 at the Pioneer Center. Presented by Wing & A Prayer Dance Company, it’s the fifth annual production in the company’s Dance in Education Series, which aims to bring dance into local schools.
“It’s a collaboration of four very talented entities in the Reno area,” explains Holly Johnson, president of Asha World Fusion Dancers. “[There are] Wing & A Prayer Dance Company, the Asha belly dancers, Slow Djinn Fez, and Joseph Galata [dancing as the Sultan]. So we bring these wonderfully talented people together to create Moonlit Arabian Nights.”
Johnson, 44, is an experienced performer herself, having been a dancer for over two decades. She began at age 22 in Northern California, dancing with a tribal fusion troupe. “I moved to Reno, and there [weren’t] any dance companies performing with live percussion music,” Johnson says. “But Pangaea was forming at that time, and that was a group of guys playing rhythm on drums from around the world. So I joined their budding act and brought my dances that I had learned in the African-Brazilian-Middle-Eastern way.”
Johnson danced with Pangaea for 10 years. Pangaea and the Asha belly dancers were often booked for the same shows, and after seeing them dance, Johnson decided she wanted to join the troupe. She’s been with Asha for four years now. “It’s been great dancing with these women—they’re very committed and very talented,” she says.
Moonlit Arabian Nights integrates American tribal-style belly dancing with contemporary dance to create a full-length ballet. Using music and dance, they tell the story of Scheherazade, a young woman forced to marry a bored sultan. With her ingenious and enchanting stories, Scheherazade piques the king’s interest and inspires him to use his imagination. Stories like “Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves” and “Aladdin’s Magic Lamp” will be featured, as well as appearances from Disney-style characters like Princess Jasmine and Jafar.
“There’s going to be a little narration just to explain [and to] guide people to help translate the modern dance,” says Johnson. “Modern dance is really into storytelling and creating live human sculptures and stories.”
The music, played by Slow Djinn Fez, also draws on traditional Middle Eastern styles. “They play amazing exotic instruments from around the world—dulcimers, drums, clarinet, bass and the oud,” she adds.
Coordinating four groups of performers is no easy feat, Johnson says. “It’s been a work in progress for over a year now, choreographing the dances to tell the stories and have the music match,” she says. “It’s been a complicated process, and it’s challenged everyone to the limit to make it happen.” However, it’s all been worth it, she adds. “It’s exciting to bring the live music together with modern dance and Middle Eastern-inspired style.”
Although Moonlit Arabian Nights plays to the general public for one night only, there will be two daytime student performances for school groups from Sage Ridge, Mountain View Montessori and more. “We’re hoping the educators come out and say, ‘Hey, we want you to come out to our school,'” says Johnson. She also hopes to bring the show to Reno’s Drum, Dance and Didgeridoo Festival in July.
If you’re looking for something a little different, make this Friday night a Moonlit Arabian Night, and embark on a journey to an enchanted world of music and dance.