The Arts

A Virtuous Girl of the Mountains Becomes a Prostitute

His ego has been suffering for some time. He refuses to accept what has happened to his heroine, the girl of the mountains. As he broods, secluded and sad, playwright Loni Papa seeks sympathy. By chance, he has heard that one of his most acclaimed works of years ago has been plagiarized and abused. He has heard that his virtuous mountain girl has become the protagonist of a contemporary ballet, but this time as a prostitute.

This transformation is unfathomable and unacceptable. How could such a character, imbued with the highest virtues, become a prostitute, Papa asked, as Arjan Sukniqi, the choreographer and librettist of The Paradox of Life, prepared to stage his new masterpiece.

Papa was interested in how much of his content was used, how many of his ideas actually applied to that ballet, and how exactly his mountain girl had been treated. None of Sukniqi’s interpretations appealed to him. He had read in the daily press that the music used in this new rendition was the same as that of [the ballet] The Girl of the Mountains, as was the character of the priest and “the stone of the West,” the central motif in Papa’s play. It was not these “reinterpretations” he resented, but rather the newly invented image of the girl as a prostitute.

What was Papa’s original idea, and how did the new ballet change it? Papa does not accept the changes, considering them an insult to his work. Choreographer Sukniqi, however, insists that this modern ballet does not intend to degrade or undermine the original. Rather, it communicates completely new ideas and embodies a contemporary spirit.

Almost 40 years ago [under the communist regime], Loni Papa wrote the play The Girl of the Mountains. Upon its creation, the play was heavily criticized. However, with director Mihal Luarasi’s enthusiastic support, it was successfully staged in Shkodër. Director Pirro Mani soon brought it to the People’s Theater in Tirana. The Girl of the Mountains played several times, and the public received it very well. A few years later, the well-known composer, Nikolla Zoraqi, wrote the accompanying music for a libretto, and Agron Aliaj choreographed the ballet, which reaped the same success as the play.

The mountain girl became a popular character among Albanians. A number of accomplished dancers performed in this ballet, including Zoica Haxho, Mukades Erebara, and Albert Janku. It was restaged in 1984, with the participation of a different generation of dancers, including Ilir Kerni, Albana Sulejmani, and Ludmill Cakalli.

The story is set in one of Albania’s northern regions during socialism. It takes place during the movement for the emancipation of society and Albanian women. The Girl of the Mountains is a young woman who fights against the Canon [an old set of laws discriminating against women] and the oppressive traditions of the northern Albanian highlands. She battles the opposition of the church and other reactionaries, who see her as decadent for breaking with the region’s traditions. Nevertheless, she triumphs over the priest and the fundamentalist, chauvinist ideals of the fanatical and uneducated males surrounding her, and teaches others how to read and write. Finally, she dies like a heroine.

Only a few days have passed since Papa first heard of the latest adaptation of his play, and The Paradox of Life is just premiering. Created and staged by Sukniqi, with the music of Nikolla Zoraqi, the ballet suggests from the very beginning that it draws inspiration from The Girl of the Mountains. The protagonist of Sukniqi’s ballet is a prostitute who seeks acceptance in society. Although Sukniqi insists that in his conceptualization of The Paradox of Life, only the music should recall The Girl of the Mountains, symbols and motifs from the original surface in more than a few scenes.

The idea of the war between morals and instincts materializes in the efforts of a prostitute who wants to change her ways. Despite her strong will and conscious effort to change, she returns to the stone of the West (everyone who goes there is sentenced to death). Sukniqi suggests in his ballet that such a stone should no longer exist.

His protagonist wants to be rewarded with death for her failed efforts, although God forbids suicide. According to his eternal lessons, even the worst mistake does not deserve the punishment of death. The prostitute’s inner decisions and reality—her desire to change—do not give birth to a new and better reality.

On the contrary, the librettist Sukniqi does not allow her to start a new life at all. In the world he creates, it is impossible to envision change and evolution. Society remains the same as before, patriarchal and without any sign of tolerance. When the prostitute heads toward the stone, the village boys taunt her and treat her like a whore. Her mother is the only one who remains loyal to her, and she receives some support from the village priest. In the real world outside of theater, reality has begun to change. Sukniqi does not seek to exonerate or embellish this phenomenon [prostitution] through his ballet, but to integrate it into the picture of modern reality.

Papa has carefully collected all the press coverage on the new ballet. “Sukniqi says he has only borrowed the music from my ballet. But that isn’t true,” says Papa. The ideas of the stone of the West, the priest and mother figures, and even the idea of a change in mentality figure prominently in the modern conceptualization. All are an integral part of the original libretto for The Girl of the Mountains.

Papa suggests that Sukniqi’s is not an original creation. It is not difficult to use other people’s work as a basis.

But there is no dearth of ideas and history that modern ballet could engage. Why did they use The Girl of the Mountains? he exclaims. However, he does not want to oppose the adaptation vehemently. He is just offended by an incongruous adaptation, which, in his opinion, undermines his own concept by degrading his heroine.

Both Papa and Sukniqi have de-fended their perspectives. Sukniqi’s response to Papa’s concern is that he is not the first to create a modern drama based on a classic. He even lists several examples of the phenomenon in the course of international ballet history, and retorts that his ballet only borrows the music of The Girl of the Mountains. Despite opposition, replicas have become popular, and pieces from both the present and the past are always vigorously critiqued—the old Girl of the Mountains as well as today’s prostitute.