Following in the footsteps of last year’s headline dance event Tree Of Codes, Melbourne Festival has announced another collaborative choreographic spectacle as the first major reveal of 2018’s program. Layla And Majnun pairs the duel genius of America’s most revered living dancemaker, Mark Morris, and virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo-Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, to tell one of the greatest love epics from Middle Eastern antiquity.

Making their Australian debut, Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble will deliver a multi-cultural fusion of musical traditions, accompanying Azerbaijani mugham vocalists and UNESCO Music Prize recipients, Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova.

To this operatic soundscape, sixteen dancers from the Mark Morris Dance Group will bring to life the tale of Layla and Majnun, two doomed lovers whose tragic romance has resonated across the ages, millennia before Shakespeare's "star-crossed lovers" met a similar fate. The production will also feature costumes and set designs by the late, great British artist Howard Hodgkin, including a dramatic backdrop of his famed painting Love And Death.

The production’s score was premiered more than a century ago, notable as the Middle East’s first opera. However, this contemporary staging will be the first time the work has ever been performed in the West, and will also be a Melbourne exclusive during its Australian premiere run by the work’s co-commissioners, Melbourne Festival.

Festival Director Jonathan Holloway described the work as “a complete feast for the eyes and ears,” adding, “this traditional tale has been reworked by the finest artists of our generation for audiences of the 21 st-century.” The production will be the centrepiece of the third and penultimate program of Holloway's Melbourne Festival tenure.

Melbourne Festival presents Layla And Majnun from 10 Oct at Arts Centre Melbourne.