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Synopsis for Dance

"If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke - Ay! And what then?" Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Anima Poetae

1. The Creation of the Enchanted Paradise (14.31)

"And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills, Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree"

'And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree'

We are in an enchanted world, a vision within a dream, in a paradise garden created by myth, legend and memories of tales from far off lands. With the wonderful ambiguity of dreams, this could be Xian-du, the capital of ancient China, or the land of the Marsh Arabs of Iraq, or the biblical Garden of Eden. Under the garden runs the mysterious Alph, the sacred river, a melding of the Nile, the Tigris or Euphrates.

The Khan Kubla commands his people to girdle the garden with walls and towers, within which they will erect a stately, glittering and majestic pleasure dome. When complete, they inhabit this magical, perfect place, with its bright meadows, incense bearing trees and forests, ancient as the hills. It is a romantic vision of a perfect Paradise, inhabited by people indulging in sensory delights.

74 seconds MP3 sample (575k)


2. Alph, the Sacred River (18.49)

"And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far Ancestral voices prophesying war"

'And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far

Ancestral voices prophesying war'


Now, Alph the Sacred River becomes strongly identified with all the legendary associations of the Nile, and we are in a vision bathed in pure romance. Within the river's huge chasms and gorges, a woman lies beneath a waning moon, "wailing for her demon lover". From this chasm, charged with underground energy, the river bursts forth in huge, intermittent foaming bursts, which die away to a mazy, meandering motion as the dream flows with the river, through five miles of wood and dale.

The dream shifts, the river swells to a giant primeval Amazon, then sinks into a lifeless ocean. Amid this primordial power, Kubla hears the voices of ancient ancestors, prophesying war. The movement ends with a terrifying, apocalyptic vision of ancient wars, and those still to come.

67 seconds MP3 sample (520k)

3. The Shadow of the Dome of Pleasure (9.47)

"The shadow of the dome of pleasure Floated midway on the waves"

'The shadow of the dome of pleasure

Floated midway on the waves'


The kaleidoscope of the dream turns again, from the images of war to a scene of serene beauty. To the sound of strange music, the shadow of the Dome of Pleasure is seen, floating mirage-like on the waves of a restless sea. This vision is seeded by images of lakeside mosques in Kashmir, whose golden domes ripple in the reflective water.

By magic, we find ourselves in the interior of the "sunny pleasure dome", which turns out to be divided not into palatial rooms, but into caves of ice (another image from a Kashmiri traveller's tale read by Coleridge), dripping and sparkling and mysteriously sunlit. The association of the glittering ice with the interior of the domes of some of the great mosques of Iraq and Arabia, and the serene movements of the occupants of the Pleasure Dome as they pursue their sensual and bodily delights, justifies Coleridge's description of it as a "miracle of strange device".

65 seconds MP3 sample (507k)

4. The Abyssinian Maid & the Youth from Tartary (13.40)

"And all should cry beware!, Beware! His flashing eyes, his floating hair!"

'And all should cry beware! Beware!

His flashing eyes, his floating hair!'


The scene inside the Pleasure Dome, with its sensual associations, trigger another remembered vision. A beautiful girl is seen playing a dulcimer and singing strange songs of Mount Abora and the Old Man of the Mountain. The enchanted music gradually invokes in her a longing for the forbidden fruits of the Pleasure Dome and against this background, suddenly, and with a hint of danger, the magical Youth from Tartary (a Mongol warrior), with " his flashing eyes, his floating hair", appears. He is a symbol of her seduction and tries to weave his irresistible spell on her.

Whirling around each other, the two embark on a strangely compulsive and passionate courtship ritual. But now, there are the first signs of a fragmentation in the irrational, but unconsciously directed flow of the dream. As the couple are drawn together, and as if the dreamer himself were trying to hang on to this dangerous and enchanted world, the images, the visions, are becoming fragmented by a huge, terrifying series of staccato sounds, as if someone were about to break in at the door of this other world. Finally, at the moment of union, the dream shatters, leaving us, like Coleridge, with those remembered images of a strange and pagan Paradise.

63 seconds MP3 sample (496k)

N.B. A full version of Richard Hill’s storyline and treatment for ‘Images from Kubla Khan’ is available as a PDF file, on request, from This is a perusal version only. Grand Rights and hire fees would apply for any theatrical performance.




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