Unveiling ‘Scheherazade’

Just when you wonder where else he could possibly take us, Bay Area dance icon Alonzo King invites us on a magic carpet ride to the West Coast premiere of his new ballet, “Scheherazade.”

The reinterpretation of “1001 Tales of the Arabian Nights” choreographed for his company, LINES Ballet, opens Thursday at the Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Originally commissioned for Monaco’s 2009 Centennial Celebration of the Ballet Russe, the ballet features the original Rimsky-Korsakov score, arranged and adapted for both Western and traditional Persian instruments by tabla master, and King’s frequent collaborator, Zakir Hussein.

Before beginning the choreography, King researched his subject thoroughly to discover the deeper meaning behind the “1001 Arabian Nights,” a compilation based on Persian, Arabic and Indian folk tales.

“When many people think of Scheherazade they automatically think: exotica, orientalism, café society the 30s,” King says. “But I was obsessed with who she was.”

King rejects the notion that Scheherazade was simply, as he says, “playing dice with the shah to save her life.”

In the book, the shah, betrayed by his first wife, has killed thousands of women in revenge, each after consummating the marriage. Knowing this, Scheherazade still wants to marry him.

“Does that make sense?” King asks. “No. She’s stepping into this all-knowing. She’s marrying him to transform him.”

The production, which received critical acclaim at the Monaco premiere, draws upon the efforts of several of King’s longtime collaborators including costumer and couturier Colleen Quen, and internationally acclaimed lighting artist and designer Axel Morgenthaler.

It was LINES co-founder and associate artistic director Robert Rosenwasser who suggested that Hussein explore traditional instruments for the score.

“Working with [Zakir] is always thrilling,” King says. “He lives the work. People don’t know that he was also trained as a dancer. When he accompanied dance classes the teacher would say to him, ‘Learn this.’ He really gets dance.”

So, just how does Scheherazade transform the shah? “She drowns him in her own healing vibration,” King says. “The voice of every human being is their essence. The alchemy is that it is who she is, essentially, that reshapes him through these stories. When someone is really listening, they forget about themselves, their pain, resentment, vengeance because they’re transported. She is the savior figure. There’s a quote from Yogananda that I love: ‘Women are the savior of mankind.’”

IF YOU GO

Scheherazade

Presented by Alonzo King LINES Ballet

Where:  Novellus Theater, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Howard St. (at Third Street), San Francisco

When: Opens with 7 p.m. gala Thursday; 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 25

Tickets: $25 to $75

Contact: (415) 978-2787; www.ybca.org, www.linesballet.org

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