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King Salman has tried to continue the modernization of the kingdom begun by his predecessors while maintaining strict enforcement of traditional religious behavior. This has resulted in ultra-modern trappings jarringly juxtaposed with ancient mores, such as fleets of luxury cars that only men are allowed to drive, or the latest technology used to broadcast the beheadings of homosexuals. In the case of the would-be ballet, simply finding experienced instructors has proved next to impossible, threatening a pet modernization project with closure even before it gets off the ground.
Consultants helped place ads in European, American, and Asian publications, seeking both dancers and teachers to participate in, and train ballerinas for, the nascent company. The ads promised lucrative returns and the exciting opportunity to help birth what Salman hopes will become a leading cultural institution in the region and beyond. However, few, if any, interested applicants proceeded past the first set of inquiries, after discovering that all performances, or even rehearsals in the presence of men, would have to take place in full burkhas, which would impede the dancers' movements and possibly put them at risk of injury while performing certain textbook ballet moves.
Additionally, the candidates discovered, there would be no simultaneous dancing of men and women, a public modesty requirement that automatically rules out almost all classical ballets. Officials have repeatedly insisted they seek to make Riyadh a cultural powerhouse, not an experimental, avant-garde venue for productions of marginal impact, a desire that conflicts with the availability of popular ballets involving unisex ballet productions.
With no credible applicants for teaching positions, and barely a handful of potential dancers - mostly relatives of the royal family who already trained in Europe - the managing director of the ballet company announced a delay last month in the scheduled debut performance. Planners had hoped to make a splash on the regional cultural stage with a modified, a version of Balanchine's choreography for The Nutcracker by Tchaikovsky, adapted for local tastes both to enhance modesty and to remove any possible references to non-Islamic cultural touchstones. Opening night was initially scheduled to grace a newly opened Royal Saud Ballet Hall, slated to begin operations next May. But now ballet officials are considering indefinite postponement, unless the lack of seasoned, willing talent can be addressed soon.
If in fact the ballet does not come to fruition, Minister of Culture Ahaf Bin Toqin has already developed preliminary plans to repurpose the ballet hall for a different, more popular spectacle: the beheading of homosexuals. "Our first crop of subjects will probably come from the cohort of applicants for the male roles," he predicted.