The Pearl Fantasy
A circus tale retold
A decades-old cassette provided the script and the spark for The Pearl Fantasy. Local performer Amaya, in her early days, ran off to join the German circus Salome as a belly dancer. As she walked around an empty and luxurious Journal Theatre stage at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the cassette became the impetus of a performance that would take a year to put together.
From the moment Leyla Najma and Rozana al Jinan saw the Journal Theatre's amenities and 691 seats, they knew it was fertile ground for something big. "We got on top of that stage and said, We have to do something here," says Najma. Amaya recalled the tale of the pearl as told by her old circus. The problem: The only copy of the story was entirely aural—and it was in German.
Najma and al Jinan are belly dancing instructors, and their everyday appearance is lavish. From beneath her jet-black hair and strong brow, Najma's brightly colored lips tell the tale of The Pearl Fantasy, similarly painted in broad, bold strokes. The Goddess of the Moon has lost the Pearl, a female character who is captured by the minions of the Mistress of Evil. The Prince of the Sun embarks on a journey to find the Pearl, meeting an iconic cast of characters along the way.
The script was transcribed and translated by Hans Haagar, and then adapted for the stage by al Jinan. The story is told through dance theater: characters who act through dance. It's about an hour-and-a-half long, but al Jinan says it's a rich 90 minutes. Masks and wigs were designed by Sophia Matthews, and the look of them had a big influence on the interpretation of the characters in the show. "As a performer, when you've got a mask on and you're looking at the audience," Najma says, "it's really cool, because you feel like you're kind of still hidden, and it can really bring out a unique sense of yourself."
All of the performers and crew donated their time to the production, and a portion of the proceeds will go to the Carrie Tingley Hospital Foundation. Al Jinan's son was treated at the hospital when he was 6 years old for complications related to cerebral palsy. "It gave me the opportunity when he was there to see all the families that did need help covering expenses," she says. Tickets to The Pearl Fantasy have been donated to eight children from the hospital and their families.
Al Jinan says the overall theme of the production will be positive—particularly for young women. The Pearl, she says, ends up saving herself. "She discovers she has powers that she didn't realize," she says. "A good analogy is raising your children and raising them right, so when they're out on their own, they can take care of themselves in the world."
The Pearl Fantasy will be performed Saturday, Sept. 6, at the Journal Theatre at the National Hispanic Cultural Center (1701 Fourth Street SW) at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, $20 and $25 depending on seating, through TicketMaster or the NHCC box office at 724-4771.