Seven Beauties: The Love Decagon

3 Dec

It’s official:  I’ve joined the quadruple pirouette club!  I was listening to Stevie Wonder and playing around the other day like I do, and noticed that my right arm kept coming forward in pirouettes, and so I said “well stop it.”  So then, my next attempt turned into this glorious quadruple pirouette that felt centered and supported and was doing everything just right.  The result wasn’t even an “almost there” quad, it was a GOOD quad.  I was so excited and tried again, which was a stupid idea because I haven’t been able to reproduce the phenomenon.  That may have been the only quadruple pirouette I ever do in my entire life, but I did it.  I SRSLY did it!  It’s funny though, how your concept of doubles and triples changes once you’ve achieved a quad.  The future is bright and the sun will surely come out tomorrow (well, maybe not in Ohio).

Anyway I’m jazzed and have a great but heinous post for today.  Great because the topic is neato, but heinous because I’m going to do a great injustice to it.  I’ve been wanting to write something on this somewhat obscure ballet that hails from Azerbaijan, however, to my chagrin there is virtually no information on the net that I could find.  Coincidentally (or not) I do not speak Azeri, so searching with the Azeri title wasn’t going to do much (although I did find a short Wikipedia entry…or as they call it Vikipediya).  I’ve been punching a few words into an Azeri-English dictionary with a little success, but it’s like lightning striking a needle in a haystack twice…I’m not making a lot of progress, although I did figure out how to Romanize some of the names, which will make things a little easier to read.  Unless you read Azeri, in which case why aren’t you writing this?

Anyway, so this ballet is Seven Beauties (Yeddi Gözəl), with the score by Gara Garayev (Qara Qarayev).  According to Garayev’s Wikipedia (no, not Vikipediya) entry, it’s a ballet that debuted with Azerbaijani Theater of Opera and Ballet in 1952, while Azerbaijan was a part of the Soviet Union.  From what little I know, Garayev was one of the most famous composers to emerge in Azerbaijan during the Soviet era, and was a part of this explosion of classical music and the arts.  I actually found out about Garayev because I was interested in another composer at the time, Fikret Amirov, who I knew through his “symphonic mugam,” which have a really distinct Middle Eastern sound, but unlike many Western composers who might interpret a Middle Eastern feel, Amirov’s symphonic mugams are actually based on Azeri folk melodies.  Interestingly enough, Amirov also wrote music for a few ballets…but no information on those either and now I’m getting sidetracked.  Baku to Garayev, he wrote only two ballets, Seven Beauties and The Path of Thunder, the latter of which is apparently dedicated to racial conflict in South Africa.

See now this is why foreign ballets intrigue me.  I’m interested in the different myths and stories people have to tell in addition to variance in aesthetics applied to ballet technique.  Ballet could use a little (a lot of) de-westernization to make it interesting (this is not to say Azerbaijan is the only country to have done this!).  Why shouldn’t the ballet vocabulary be for use by all?  And in the case of Azerbaijani choreographers Rafiga Akhundova and Maksud Mamedov, accentuated by bent elbows, upturned palms and flexed wrists that tell the story of Nizami Genjavi’s famed poem.  Now there is a wee bit of murkiness here because Garayev’s biography says that the choreography was done by P.A Gusev, and Akhundova and Mamedov were actually leading soloists with the Azerbaijani State Opera and Ballet beginning in 1952 which is when Seven Beauties premiered (one of the highlights of their careers).  The version I watched is a film adaptation (produced thirty years after the stage debut) where they are indeed credited as the choreographers, so I don’t know if that means they restored the original and filled in the holes or made up their own choreography.  Your guess is as good as mine, but because the film version is the one I’m talking about, I’m going to maintain that they are the choreographers for the sake of simplicity.

Akhundova and Mamedov did adjust the libretto for the ballet, although the basic premise of the story is the same.  It’s centered around a Persian king, Bahram, who sees a painting of seven princesses from far off lands (the princesses are Indian/black, Roman or Turkish/yellow, from Kharazm/green, Slav/red, Moroccan/blue, Chinese/sandalwood, Iranian/white.  It’s a little inconsistent; in another version of the myth I found, the Roman princess was omitted, in another, the Chinese).  Enamored (and successfully distracted per his vizier’s plan) by their beauty, he seeks their hands and has seven domes built to each princess.  Each princess is represented by a color, a mood, and a planet (apparently Nizami wasn’t on board with Pluto being a planet either.  Seriously though, just to keep the facts straight, in the case of the astrology regarding Seven Beauties, the seven planets in question are Saturn, the Sun, the Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter and Venus).  Bahram visits each princess on a specific day of the week and each teaches him a virtue (faith, serenity, passion, etc.).  So there is polygamy in this ballet which is treacherous territory, and especially difficult for Western audiences to digest.  Although I’m sure I’ll get slapped with arguments about misogyny (not that I disagree), I don’t think the ballet itself is in favor of polygamy, it’s just an expression of a poem that reflected the culture of the place and time.  Besides, I wonder if it’s kind of the “Scheherazade-effect” at work, where it takes a woman’s brains to mold the man.  I mean, Bahram is apparently kind of dopey and needs the wisdom of the seven princesses in order to become a worthy king (which to me says more about the faults of man then it does hatred of women).  It’s like that saying that it takes a village to make a man…except the village is unnecessary and really it just takes seven smart women.  At any rate, while Bahram is “learning things,” his vizier seizes the throne and the kingdom is thrown into disarray.  This is where Akhundova/Mamedov’s tinkering comes into play though.  They added the character of Aysha, a woman Bahram is already courting (or married to?  Who knows), and perhaps the vizier is jealous of both Bahram’s crown and his love.  When Bahram goes off on his quest, Aysha laments, but eventually Bahram realizes what he’s missing and hurries back to Aysha.  Perhaps that is Akhundova/Mamedov’s attempt at westernizing the story; rather than have the seven princesses as wives, they are almost deified into goddesses and Bahram eventually returns to his one true love.  But of course, it’s ballet and where there’s love there’s death so Aysha dies, Bahram’s kingdom doesn’t like him anymore and he kind of sulks off stage.  The end.

Anyway, it’s a miracle that this ballet is even on YouTube because it’s impossible to locate on DVD or even VHS, so be sure to check it out and hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.  Do.   It seems that Les Ballets Persans, a company for which Akhundova/Mamedov are choreographers for (read their bio), presented a restaging of this in 2002.  So it is definitely in the current repertoire, but I hope that a major international company picks it up.  It’s just really unique and “exotic” (even though I hate that word) and I think could help broaden people to different ideas of classical ballet.  The ballet is in eleven parts, so I shall post the first, and then you can find the other links from there.

Seven Beauties – Part 1

If you don’t have the time (it’s over an hour), you should at the very least watch the waltz!  (part eight in the series)

And here are some of the cast details if you’re interested:

Braham………Vadim Gulyayev

Aysha………..Natalya Bolshakova

Vizier………..Gali Abaydulov

Don’t know who’s who for the beauties, but here are the names of six of them:

Vera Nekrasova, Tamilla Mamedova, Valentina Zeynalova, Svetlana Antonicheva, Irina Yelizarova, Lidiya Brodova

Oh and I forgot to add this, a clip from Les Ballets Persans more recent staging:

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2 Responses to “Seven Beauties: The Love Decagon”

  1. ballet dance studio December 9, 2009 at 5:41 am #

    great post! =) i wonder i can see them live, =)

    • youdancefunny December 9, 2009 at 6:37 am #

      I would love to see this live as well! Hopefully Les Ballets Persans will tour someday, or a company will be interested in adding it to their rep!

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