The Dream of Shahrazad

Exploring the legacy of the 1001 Nights amidst huge political changes sweeping the Maghreb and Middle East, we meet a Turkish conductor performing Rimsky-Korsakov's Shehrezade suite, a Lebanese actress speaking out against injustice, an Egyptian artist finding inspiration from a younger storyteller, and a Cairo theatre troupe creating a performance from the testimonies of martyrs of the Revolution.

Most people around the world know at least something about THE NIGHTS %u2013 of Ali Baba, Aladdin and his lamp, Sindbad the sailor and more. For some, this famous collection of stories merely amounts to children%u2019s fantasy; for others, it represents a problematically exotic (%u201COrientalist%u201D) and sexualized view of the Middle Eastern, Arab or Islamic world, or simply vulgarity and pornography%u2026 Yet for many people around the world - and especially in the Middle Eastern region itself - it has for centuries been an ongoing source of creative inspiration and wonder, and has also been employed for radical social and political critique, particularly in the recent past.

In the frame story of the NIGHTS, the princess Shahrazad saves lives through her creativity. The cuckolded Sultan Shahriyar has not only ordered the killing of his queen but has also promised to marry a new virgin every night and to then execute her the following morning %u2013 by keeping him engaged with stories night after night, Shahrazad prevents herself and other women from being executed. By the end of one thousand and one nights of storytelling, he rescinds his decree and declares her the queen of the nation (and in some versions, abdicates his throne and goes in search of deeper forgiveness). Shahrazad thus embodies initiative and resistance to oppression through the power of the imagination, and teaches the murderous Sultan to become a better person.

THE DREAM OF SHAHRAZAD celebrates the legacy of Shahrazad and of the NIGHTS today, exploring situations where they are brought alive and infuse political sensibilities. An array of different stories weave in and out of one another at relevant contact points, much as in THE NIGHTS, resulting in a richly kaleidoscopic blend of music, fable, politics and filmic vision. Four main ones drive the narrative:
- a Turkish conductor leads a youth orchestra through the rehearsal and performance of Rimsky-Korsakov%u2019s SCHEHERAZADE suite, using the piece as a tool for democratic education
- a young Lebanese actress struggles to make peace with her experiences of war and of male oppression and, like Shahrazad, is forced to make a hard choice between keeping quiet and speaking out
- an older Egyptian artist whose work revolves around THE NIGHTS finds new inspiration from a striking and politically radical younger storyteller
- a human rights researcher helps a Cairo theatre troupe in creating performances based on testimonies from the families of martyrs of the January 25 Revolution, and is forced to make sense not only of what the Revolution but also storytelling itself now means%u2026
The frame story of Shahrazad and Shahriyar, told in voiceover, runs throughout and further guides the narrative.

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