Mecca Studio wants to create another annual holiday favorite with “One Thousand and One Nights”
Mecca performers rehearse prior to last year's production of "One Thousand and One Nights." PHOTO BY MICK JEFFRIES
Weeks before her company’s annual “Thriller” parade, which over the past 12 years has become a wildly popular Halloween event bringing thousands of people to downtown Lexington to watch hundreds of zombies and ghouls reenact the iconic Michael Jackson music video, Teresa Tomb, the founder and director of Mecca Live Studio & Gallery, was already deep in the process of establishing what she hopes will become yet another local holiday institution.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving this year (Nov. 24), Tomb and students from Mecca, along with a cast of other featured artists, will present their second annual production of the Middle Eastern storytelling epic “One Thousand and One Nights.”
As an instructional facility, the core of Mecca’s class and workshop emphasis is on the art of belly dance, and this production, which along with over 30 performers will include live musicians playing original and traditional compositions, gives Mecca students and instructors an opportunity for a public showcase.
“The goal with this dance form has always been elevating it to the stage, just like ballet or modern dance, which we’ve done for years,” Tomb said. “We decided it would be great to have it the same time every year, like ‘The Nutcracker.’ So hopefully later people will say, ‘It’s that time of the year for ‘One Thousand and One Nights.’
“It’s kind of like a reunion show because a lot of people that have been in the company that have gone on to different cities come back for it.”
The production is a good choice for an annual production without the fear of becoming stale. Unlike “The Nutcracker,” which has one storyline most audiences are familiar with, “One Thousand and One Nights” is a collection of folk tales and fables that Tomb can interpret each year for variety. The frame story for the work is about Scheherazade, a young virgin who has been married off to a vicious king who executes his new brides the morning after their wedding to prevent them from ever being unfaithful. On the night of their wedding, Scheherazade begins telling a story, only she stops at the point of a cliffhanger so the king will spare her life in order to hear how the story ends the following night. This goes on for 1,001 nights.
“Most of the stories have to do with a principal taking a journey, a self-awareness journey,” Tomb said. “There’s some sort of moral or self-discovery in the tale.”
Out of Scheherazade’s stories, there are a number of tales and characters that are recognizable, such as “Sinbad the Sailor” and “The Thief of Baghdad,” which was the basis for last year’s production.
“Last year’s was very scene by scene in that one could see the unfolding,” Tomb said. “There’s just so much to choose from, we want the approach to be fresh every year. This year, some of the pieces will be a little more abstract and conceptual, so we won’t be working with a straight storyline. There will be more vignettes that reflect back to some of the stories.”
While conceptualizing the production, Tomb writes the show to work with aspects that are in her students’ repertoire, only applied in a way to make it fit on stage. She says many of her dancers don’t come to Mecca classes, initially, interested in public performance, but ultimately find the opportunity appealing after they gain confidence.
“A lot of people come to it because they need to get in shape, and they don’t like going to the gym. They are looking for something that is a little more engaging than just running on a treadmill,” Tomb said. “But after a while, a lot of them are like, ‘I want to perform this,’ and we make opportunities for them to perform, where they get to showcase what they learn.”
Mecca Live Studio & Gallery presents One Thousand and One Nights
7 p.m. Nov. 24
Featured artists this year will include Mardi Love, Lexington’s Rakadu, The March Madness Marching Band, SuperKate, Aminata Cairo, Matt Elliott, Tripp Bratton, Jason Thompson, Alyssum Pohl and others.