Sailing Through Time: a musical celebration of Arab journeys on the Silk Road
As well as being a historic trading route, the Silk Road – connecting the spice and silk markets of Asia to the western world – was the path along which cultures met.
As more people began to explore the route, sea navigation opened up even more travel opportunities. Among these were adventurers from the Middle East, and the Caracalla Dance Theatre company celebrates these pioneers in its Arabic-language touring musical Sailing Through Time.
The 49-year-old company, which is based in Lebanon, starts a two-year world tour with two shows at the Royal Opera House Muscat next weekend, as part of the venue’s season finale.
“Sailing Through Time is inspired by the civilisations on the Silk Road,” says Ivan Caracalla, the head of the company and production director. “We are not talking about the commercial Silk Road – our focus is on the intercultural and how this brought people together, broke down obstacles and resulted in the exchange of the arts and discovery.
“When we talk about Silk Road, we immediately think about Marco Polo. However, we are not going down that path. We are inspired by it to create our own scenario and story.”
The musical weaves the story of ancient Heliopolis adventurer Taymour, who leaves the City of the Sun in Lebanon to embark on an expedition to reach the city of Xi’an in China.
Along the way, he stops in Oman in search of “the first Arab seaman”, Ahmad ibn Majid, the 14th-century cartographer and navigator who was born in Ras Al Khaimah (then in Oman) and is fondly remembered as the “Prince of the Sea”. The pair set out from Muscat to journey to India and China and then make their way back through Persia and Venice.
Sailing Through Time was created for the 60th edition of the Baalbeck International Festival last year, with the premiere staged at the Bacchus Temple.
It took the dance company, which has performed in prestigious venues such as the Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and Frankfurt Opera House, more than a year to bring together 120 dancers, actors, singers and technical staff from Lebanon, China and India to narrate the tale, which spans the globe.
“We want this to be authentic, so we also have the participation of dance companies from India and China,” says Caracalla.
“We engaged in several auditions over a year to find the right cast.”
The production includes 10 renowned singers and actors from Lebanon, including celebrated singer Fairuz’s sister, Hoda Haddad.
The sets and costume design were personally overseen by the company’s founding member and artistic director, Abdel Halim Caracalla. He founded the production house in 1968 with six members – now it has more than 60 artists on staff.
Ivan, who joined the family-owned theatre business with his sister Alissar, a choreographer, in the 1990s, says the set helps to move the story forward.
“There is a virtual set for advanced projection of the countries our protagonists go to,” he says. “The built set was created by a scenography house in Italy and it took seven months.
“The huge part is when we reach the Imperial Palace in China. There are these amazing golden columns that are hand-sculpted and have been covered with gold leaf by several Italian artists.”
The dance company showcases diversity through 700 costumes representing the wide variety of civilisations along the Silk Road.
“When you sit down and think about what to create for your audience, it is hard not to be affected by the environment and world you are living in,” says Caracalla, explaining how the company created the concept.
“We look around and see the problems happening around the world: people fighting and [the] misrepresentation of several countries.
“It is as if we have lost the sense of humanity. This production will bring together so many cultures – Middle Eastern, Indian, Chinese and European – as we go through the different scenes.
“The music, costumes and scenes change, and in two hours we bring it all under one idea and [the] goal of togetherness. This is the subtle message of the production.”
• Sailing Through Time will be performed on May 19 and 20 at the Royal Opera House Muscat. Tickets start from Dh48. Details on www.rohmuscat.org.om
Updated: May 10, 2017 04:00 AM