The epic love story of Layla and Majnun is one of the most famous tragedies of classical Arabic literature, still widely read today. It originally formed part of an anthology of short stories prepared in 895 AD by Ibn al-Nadim, and became popular in Persia with the spread of Islam. The story goes that the characters Layla and Qays met at school and fell hopelessly in love with one another. For Qays, the strain of keeping his love secret was too much to bear and he took to crying Layla’s name through the town, earning him the moniker majnun. In time Majnun was forced to flee to the desert to escape Layla's father's anger at his perceived insult to her tribe and honour. Majnun lived a reclusive life amongst the animals in the wilderness, a scene often depicted in in both Persian and Indian miniature painting. Sufi mystics used the example of Majnun's unrequited love for Layla as a metaphor to describe the pining of the human soul in the search for divine love.
Hodgkin was delighted to collaborate with the Mark Morris Dance Group in designing the costumes and set for their new production of Layla and Majnun which premiered in September 2016 at Berkeley, California and is now on tour. Against a backdrop of Hodgkin's painting Love and Death, the production features singers Alim Qasimov and Fargana Qasimova and musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble on traditional Asian instruments combined with Western strings and a percussionist on stage with 16 dancers of the Mark Morris Dance Group. The present work belongs to a small group of five studies from which Hodgkin selected elements to produce the blue fabric of the final costume designs. Morris has described the production as 'a visually, musically, and choreographically unified and self-contained concert piece. An enlightening tragedy.'
Hodgkin first worked in the theatre in 1981, when he designed the set and costumes for Richard Alston’s Night Music with the Ballet Rambert. For the Mark Morris Dance Group, he designed for Rhymes with Silver (1997), Kolam (2002), and Mozart Dances (2006).