Some may also recall my follow-up posts -- when I was moaning about the faulty costumes (Zenobia : the Musical and Conquest's Law), or my futile tirade against the terrible anachronism of Zenobia brandishing an Arab scimitar -- a sword that only came into being 1,000 years after her time (Zenobia's Terrible Curved Sword) -- or even my banging on about Zenobia not being an Arab at all, let alone a precocious freedom-fighter against Western imperialists (aka the Romans).
Well, it's time I stopped being so grumpy about every misreading of the historical Zenobia ... and so will tell you instead about the newest new Zenobia in the Gulf (above): the all-dancing 'Story of Zenobia', performed for the first time this week at the Summer Festival in Bahrain.
The Bahrain News Agency says it all:
"INANA DANACE THEATER PRESENTS ZENOBIA, QUEEN OF LEVANT
SYRIAN TROUPE, THE INANA DANCE THEATER, PRESENTED AT THE CULTURAL HALL YESTERDAY ZENOBIA, QUEEN OF THE LEVANT, GODDESS OF LOVE, FERTILITY, CULTURE, ART, LITERATURE AND MOON FOR ANCIENT SYRIANS. THIS IS FROM WHERE THE TROOPE DERIVED ITS NAME"
They mean Inana, the goddess; not Zenobia.
Oh I hope I'm not going to get grumpy again.
In[n]ana is the Sumerian name of a most ancient Mesopotamian goddess (though not, as far as I know, a Moon Goddess; rather she is identified with the star of Venus). The equivalent early Semitic goddess is Ishtar, and later -- even closer to their Syrian home -- Astarte. So, by all that's holy, they should dance to the tune of Astarte and not Innana.
"IT IS WORTH NOTING THAT INANA IS THE FIRST SYRIAN DANCE THEATER TROOPE TO PRESENT SINCE ITS INCEPTION IN THE 1990'S A LARGE NUMBER OF SHOWS DERIVED FROM THE ARAB HISTORY, FOLKLORE AND CIVILIZATION.THIS AUTHENTICITY EARNED INANA LOCAL REGIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL REPUTATION."
"THE SHOW TELLS THE STORY OF ZENOBIA, A GREAT LEADER WHO ACCOMPANIED HER HUSBAND ODAENATHUS (above left) IN HIS CAMPAIGNS AGAINST PERSIA AND WHO AFTER HIS DEATH TOOK POWER AND RULED AS A REGENT FOR HER INFANT SON VABALLATHUS.SHE MADE VICTORIES, PLANNED WISELY, AND HAD A FIRM GRASP ON HER ARMY.SHE WAS DESCRIBED AS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL AND NOBLE WOMAN IN THE EAST AND AN INDEPENDENT AND COMPETENT RULER."
The Inana Dance Theatre
The company's strength is that it presents Syrian and Arab folklore in a contemporary manner, merging reality with fiction. Folkloric-inspired dances at the same time embrace the aesthetic of modern ballet -- synthesizing the traditional and the avant garde. The music remains oriental in flavour, though performed on traditional Western instruments and 'nodding' in the direction of symphonic music.
On the Inana Theatre website, (also transcribed as 'Enana') you can watch a short video which amply illustrates the group's superb dancing skills and "Creativity and Brilliance" as recently displayed in their Egyptian tour, with stops in Cairo and Alexandria.
I was excited to discover that they also produced a "dancing theatrical performance" based on the life of Julia Domna, the Syrian princess who married Septimius Severus, the future emperor and empress of Rome. I've written about this empress -- a most emphatically Uppity Woman (More Uppity Women I) and probable role model for Zenobia. While I haven't yet seen any reviews from Bahrain, I imagine that the opening scenes of Julia Domna and Zenobia, Queen of the Levant are similarly deeply rooted in mythological times:
Here's what they look like.
The curtain rose to violent percussion and instrumental fortissimo. Thunder rolled and lightning flashed across Cairo Opera's darkened main stage: the Gods were on the Mountain of the East and they were preparing to do battle, as is the wont of such divinities. Gradually the sombre shadows lifted on the early stages of the battle. Baal, rider of the clouds and god of lightning and thunder, is revolting against his father, Il, who prefers Yam Nahar, god of the rivers and the seas.
Marduk the Wise and Tiamat the Vengeful, Ishtar "goddess of the morn and of the eve," and Shamash, god of the sun, sing songs of praise. According to a Sumerian tablet -- now in Oxford -- ten mythological kings ruled for a total of 456,000 years.
As the antediluvian gods and kings were evoking their glorious past on the Main Stage the background changed from dark blue to dark green.
The narrator pranced around them, revealing their tales and disclosing their secrets to the attentive audience. Finally the divinities decide to return to their heavenly abode, leaving the earth to mankind. Thunder and lightning accompany their departure as, with the end of Scene I, human history started."*
The starring lady (left) is, I think, Yara Eid, who dances the role of Zenobia and the king is Jihad Mifleh, who heads the group and is the main choreographer, and dances here, I believe, the role of Odenathus. But I would be happy to be corrected.
A first review in at Dalal's Cue: Tidbits of Bahrain, Bahrainis & The Girl Who Writes Them: What makes this performance truly unique, compared to Broadway for example, is the strong Middle Eastern tint to it. Levantian “shaami” music fuses with the traditional orchestra, bringing the distinct sounds of “qanun,” “oud” and “nay” to the songs. In a couple of scenes, you do not hear music at all, only the melancholy of a female vocalist – what we call “mawwal.” Read more at Dalal's Cue ...
* Amal Choucri Catta writing in Al-Ahram 9-15/03/06 .
Fourth left. Al-Ahram. Credit: Sherif Sonbol
All other photographs from Bahrain Festival website.