The evening-length work is 70 minutes long and features singers Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova and musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble on traditional Asian instruments (kamancheh, tar, shakuhachi, and pipa) combined with Western strings (two violins, viola, cello, and contrabass) and a percussionist on stage with 16 dancers of the Mark Morris Dance Group.
Howard Hodgkin, the esteemed English painter and expert collector of antique Mughal miniature paintings, designed the costumes and decor, with all of the musicians and dancers sharing the stage space on platforms and in front of a backdrop, his painting "Love and Death". Morris describes it as “a visually, musically, and choreographically unified and self-contained concert piece. An enlightening tragedy.”
This production not only introduces a beloved cornerstone of Middle Eastern folklore to a wide audience in the US 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 US—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.
"Morris' deep respect for and knowledge of traditions in both music and dance – he never plays tourist but is an artist, so that any tradition Mark incorporates becomes organic to his work – as well as his extensive experience directing epic love stories, from Dido and Aeneas to the recently discovered score of Romeo and Juliet, make him the only choice to re-imagine Layla and Majnun for a 21st century audience." -Yo-Yo Ma