The plot is fairly standard – boy meets girl but there are obstacles the boy cannot overcome without supernatural help. As was wont in the 19th century, all this takes place in an “exotic setting. » This time its the Caucasus, hence the over-the-top fur-trimmed costumes by Christian Lacroix and folklorically-correct dances which heighten Jean-Guillaume Bart’s re-imagining of a long-lost classic. So far, so easy.
However, the plethora of characters (juicy roles, all of them) and overlapping emotional triangles of an over-elaborate plot can get mighty confusing. So, here the characters, in order of appearance:
Act 1, Scene 1
ZAËL THE TOTALLY GREEN ELF — Jiminy Cricket/Puck/Ariel, take your pick – jumps and spins so well he can cross the line between the human world and that alternate one peopled with nymphs and woodland spirits. Visible and invisible at will, Zaël – like an adoring and hyperactive labrador – will do anything his mistress asks even if he constantly worries that she might get hurt. He embodies true and selfless devotion, and I consider him the real hero of the ballet. Gotta love this man.
DJÉMIL, A HUNTER. Like all official Romantic heroes, he’s something of an idiot. Can’t see true love staring him in the face. Only understands external, not internal, beauty and thinks nothing of sacrificing others in order to get what he wants. Zero comprehension of nice and welcomming fairies. Typical male.
Enter a travelling party led by MOZDOCK, A TOUGH GUY. Basically he is an overdressed pimp, Manon Lescaut’s brother with a bigger hat but without the humor or charm. He’s leading his tribe to the palace of an oriental potentate, where he plans to sell
HIS SISTER, NOUREDDA, into the harem. Droopy and veiled at first, her curves will nevertheless catch Djémil’s eye, but you shouldn’t trust her damsel-in-distress routine. Maybe this has happened to you: you are sitting alone in the lunchroom – skinny, glasses, not the world’s greatest skin – when suddenly the most popular girl on campus – perfect teeth, hair, figure – plops down next to you and anoints you, despite your braces, her Best Friend Forever. You’ve never been so happy. Until one day your braces come off, you finally get contacts, and decide to do something about the rest. A little cool air wafts in between you. Then one of the many boys she’s used and rejected sits next to you in the library and asks if you’d maybe accept to go get coffee at the Hungarian Pastry Shop. Oops, now the beautifully-polished claws come out and BFF will even resort to – like Nouredda — getting you out of the way by “fainting” in his arms, her boobs strategically pressed against his chest. The bitch.
THE FLOWER. Since for the moment a Louboutin boutique is still hard to find in a forest clearing, Nouredda decides that what she needs, wants, must have, is the glorious lone flower perched out of reach at the top of the waterfall. Djémil plucks it for her – and gets beaten up Nouredda’s clan in thanks – but none of them know that this flower has magic powers. More than that, it harbors a soul, somewhat like Kastchei’s giant, fragile, and perhaps Fabergé (ooh!) egg. While the soul of the Firebird’s sorcerer represented pure evil, this flower harbors a gentle soul too delicate to last long if touched by stupid humans. It belongs to:
NAILA, the pure spirit of the spring’s waters. If I suddenly went all dance history on you a few lines up, it’s because Naila brings us back to the deep spring of great childishly innocent and fantastical – sung or danced – roles invented in the 19th century. She’s an Ondine, a Rusalka, an orientalist vision of La Sylphide. This almost-girl water sprite – LA Source — has been discreetly watching over Djémil for a long time, but he is very confused when she finally makes herself visible to him. Too shy, she briefly slips away, and returns with Zaël. She warns Djémil that the flower he now holds has the greatest power that could ever be imagined: that of life or death. Once in her life she will save another’s, by giving away the flower’s force, but that will mean sacrificing her own. Thus, for now, she and her flower will only grant him two wishes. Fool that he is, all Djémil wants is to make Nouredda his and to make her noxious brother suffer.
Act II, Scene 1
A KHAN, impatiently WAITING FOR THE NEXT DELIVERY OF SELECTED VIRGINS FROM AMAZON. Most hot to trot, despite already wallowing in the swarm of HAREM-GIRLS AND FLUNCKEYS he bought the last time;
DADJÉ, the Khan’s #1 odalisque until now, realizes she is about to be demoted and is not willing to go without a fight. Or at least a « dance-off. » Dadjé is the soul-sister of Zarema in The Fountain of Bakhchiseray. (Remember Plisetskaya with her harem pants and dagger chasing the hapless Ulanova around large pillars)? Alas, Dadjé will lose this round.
The WANDERING MINSTRELS (“TROUBADORS”) burst in. The group actually comprises Djémil, Zaël, and other random elves in disguise, ready to tease Nouredda – suddenly not so unhappy about the prospect of being sold if it involves humiliating another woman — with that flower. They offer her freedom and a rough life with a guy who loves her but who will spend all his time in the forest hanging out with fairies and elves.
NAILA appears, having only taken human form in order to help Djémil carry off the one he seems to love. Naila’s luminous persona certainly distracts the Khan . And this just irritates Nouredda, who faints, in a most decorative manner, as hinted above.
Well, then there’s Act II, Scene 1, part 2, and Act II, Scene 2, where basically all the characters hash this crap out and arrive a bittersweet “happy end.”
DO NOT READ THE FOLLOWING IF YOU ARE A ROMANTIC SOUL
Here’s what I imagine happening after the curtain falls. Nouredda grabs Djémil’s credit card, locks herself in her dressing-room, and orders twenty pairs of Louboutin’s…He deserves it, the schmuck. Zaël will see to it that the heels break off each time she tries to stand up in any of them. The spirit of the spirit of Naïla will appear to Djémil in a dream, whispering about Super-Glue. When he wakes up, he will decide he now wants someone to help him bag a shoemaker’s daughter. This divorce is going to cost an arm and a leg.