By Hakim Abdul-Ali
The occasion was a Saturday evening wind down to a successful 2019 Spoleto Festival USA programmatic season culminating with me checking out an 8 PM show at the Charleston Gaillard Center’s Martha and John M. Rivers Performance Hall. The program I observed was officially listed as “One Thousand and One Nights” featuring the Caracalla Dance Theater and was I ever in for a resplendent surprise.
This imposing presentation was definitely a moving performance for yours truly to witness, as it was for all of the fortunate select few in attendance that evening who also observed this awesome theatrical spectacle. Quite simply, and in my frank opinion, it was one of the greatest live dance theater performances that I’ve ever seen at this festival, and I’ve had the good fortune to be covering Spoleto for thirty-three years, and counting.
This striking Middle Eastern dance theatrical show was simply magnificent and utterly picturesque from beginning to end in its two part presentations, with an intermission separating each presentation. To describe this theatrical show, which obviously centered on Lebanese based cultural themes and overtones, as grand would not serve it justice.
It was “stupendous,” complete with an outstanding musical score, lavish costumes, competing with the very best you’d see on Broadway, and also with a skillfully rousing plot to its overall subject matter, “One Thousand and One Nights” was something, seemingly, that joyously appeared out of an imaginary dreamscape vision, made just for the packed Spoleto Festival USA’s audience to see and be captivated by for that evening.
The program’s director, Ivan Caracalla, and the show’s choreographer, Alissa Caracalla, were nothing short of brilliant in the magnificent way they presented their tributes to Lebanon, the meanings of struggles for freedom and about having pride in one’s ethnic and national heritage were shown with festive and sweeping theatrical eliteness.
The director and choreographer, along with Giuliano Spinelli, the program’s scenographer, and complemented by projectionist Sergio Metalli’s masterful genius, dramatically showcased the viability of ancient Middle Eastern culture with subliminal cognizant portrayals and thrusting modernistic hints achieved through the talents of the Caracalla Dance Theater’s nimble and gifted actors, dancers, singers and capable folklorist.
In critiquing this show, I must add that, along with the breathtaking state of the arts visionary technological on screen enhancements, the program was purely fascinating to watch as I followed the unbelievable scenery that was being flashed before my eyes and the audience’s bewildering mindsets with such amazing consistency until all I could do was marvel at how such a wonderful and top notch dance program was being presented in the Lowcountry. “It was exquisite.”
Credit must also be generously extended to Abdel Halim Caracalla, who was in charge of costumes and text, and to production manager Tara-Maria Abela for the behind the scenes work that they did in making this show come alive. Ballet master Tetiana Taran, wardrobe mistress Faten Mechref, the lighting head, Jacopo Pantani and all of the elegant performers deserve significant recognition for their deluxe roles in elevating this glorious show to a such a celebrated and superlative theatrical plateau.
Like I said earlier, I’ve been personally covering this Festival for The Charleston Chronicle, as a cultural critic, for a very long, uninterrupted time, and I’ve seen many past outstanding shows, performances and performers, etc. during that timeline. But, I, again, must reiterate that last Saturday’s June 8 presentation of the “One Thousand and One Nights” gala presentation was the absolute best live dance theater showcase that I’ve ever witnessed under the banner of all previous Spoleto Festival dance theater events that I’ve attended and critiqued.
Seeing this presentation took me back to when I first saw the critically acclaimed musical film “The King and I,” starring Yul Brewer. I remember being in awe of the costumes and the cinematic pageantry that were interwoven in that musical and how awe-inspiring the entire film was from start to finish.
In many ways, Spoleto Festival’s “One Thousand and One Nights” presentation impressed me the same way as the “King and I” did, except that this wasn’t the movies, rather it was appearing very much live and in futuristic technicolor, right score my very own eyes. It was a majestically great folkloric theatrical show, and the North African scenic backdrops were unbelievable to watch on such a large panoramic stage.
The performance that I saw was the second of three performances for Spoleto Festival USA, with the initial performance being showcased on June 7, and the last performance took place on June 9. The Caracalla Theater’s “One Thousand and One Nights” for the Festival was an overwhelming and shining successful presentation, and I gave it a five stars plus.