Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 July 2019

Arabs Got Talent: dancers win big in 'world class' first round of finals

We report on all the action from the live episode in Beirut on Saturday night

After a month of heart- warming backstories and colourful auditions, we are now at the business end of Arabs Got Talent. The first of six live episodes that span the final rounds aired on Saturday night on MBC, showcasing the first batch of eight acts, of the 40 competing for a place in the grand finale next month.

True to the nature of the programme, it was a mixed bag of talent that graced the Beirut stage: ranging from a young Emirati dancer and Jordanian flamenco dancer to a Saudi Arabian jazz singer and Egyptian dance troupe.

It is that eclectic reach that has kept Arabs Got Talent fresh since it began in 2011. The franchise remains a standout because it offers what other talent quests in the region don’t: for one thing, it is not focused only on music. From graffiti artists and illusionists to sand and martial artists, it is open to anyone who feels they possess a talent worth noting.

Also, where other programmes limit their outreach to Arab nationals and members of the Arab diaspora living overseas, Arabs Got Talent also invites non-Arabs residing in Arab countries to perform. For example, Saturdays episode featured a Colombian dance duo who live in Egypt.

When you also add in the fact the show encourages groups and ensembles to enter, it results in a pleasing and ego-less hour that appeals to everyone, from families at home to those watching in the rowdy coffee shops across the region.

How did Gulf contestants fair in the finals?

With the exception of young Emirati singer Shamma Hamdan making the grand finale in 2012, acts from the UAE have yet to pass the knock-out stages. Unfortunately, the streak continues this season with seven-year-old ballerina Nouf Al Hosseni not making the cut. After wowing the judging panel in her Dubai audition, “the little princess” returned with another routine that was short and sweet.

With an all pink stage setting that included balloons and lollipops, Al Hosseni engaged in a routine that showcased her burgeoning dance skills, mixing both the classical and the modern. The judges took a gentle approach by first noting her confidence, and then urging her to continue evolving her repertoire.

“The UAE has always shown to be a great place that supports its young talent,” said television executive Ali Jaber. “I hope you can continue with your training and I look forward to following your journey into stardom.”

It was a similar case for Saudi Arabian jazz singer Loulwa Al Sharif. Her charming take of Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World may have not been enough to get her to the grand finale, but Jaber said her talent was indicative of the Kingdom’s cultural expansion. He may have also just offered her a potential gig, too. “Saudi Arabia is opening up,” he said. “I hope to see you at Winter at Tantora [held in Al Ula in the country] next year.”

Dancers got talent

Another reason why the immensely talented Al Hosseni didn’t make it through is the fact that the calibre of dancing on the show has improved over the years. Out of the programme’s five seasons, two dance groups won the competition – the Syrian troupe Sima in 2012 and Moroccan break dancer Spider Saleh in 2014 – while every other season has had a dance crew reaching the last four.

In fact, while the episode only showed the first eight out of 40 acts, there are already two clear favourites to take out the competition.

Morocco’s Black and White mix dance with artistry

The Black and White troupe from Morocco – a country considered a hotbed of dance talent – wowed the judges and the crowd with an evocative performance that blended technology with physical prowess. The near dozen strong group played with stage lighting, backing screen projections and depth perceptions. Backed by an intoxicating soundtrack that featured a medley of oud-­driven covers of pop songs, including Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal, their performance blended breakdancing and pantomime and dazzled the senses.

“World class,” Lebanese star and judge Najwa Karam declared. “Everything was there: light and shade. Good and evil. I loved it.” Jaber went even further and described the performance as “one of the best I have seen on this programme ever”.

Meet the dancing pharaohs

But the group’s joy was short lived, with Galhoum Gymnastics Academy delivering a strong acrobatic performance. The Cairo group, led by choreographer Abdel Aziz Galhoum, currently have a great shot at an Egyptian act winning the competition for the first time.

Their homeland was the central character of the show, with the dancers wearing pharaonic outfits and the backing screen showing digitised versions of the Pyramids. The troupe ticks all the boxes for a potential winner: it is made up of nearly 40 young photogenic gymnasts, and the choreography is simply thrilling.

Aided by three adult dancers, the kids torpedoed in the air and dived from heart-stopping heights. The crowd, as well the judges in the studio, couldn’t contain themselves from a mixture of fear and awe. Their standing ovation was thoroughly deserved. “You are pharaohs!” judge Ahmed Helmy shouted in approval.

With both Black and White and with Galhoum Gymnastics Academy winning the programme’s two tickets to the final (the former through the audience vote and the latter a nod from the judges), we are being set up for an enthralling showdown.

Gone but not forgotten

That said, their qualification didn’t take away from the other talent on show that night. Syrian dancers Diya Al Din mixing flamenco-inspired Carmen’s Habanera with the Levantine traditional folk dance the dabka was interesting, and a concept that is worthy of further exploration.

And Egypt-based Colombian acrobatic (and real life) couple Mauro and Mary’s dance meet romance shtick would have also set a few hearts a flutter that night. “This is what I love about the show,” Al Jaber said. “It is about creativity, positivity and encouragement.”

Arabs Got Talent airs on MBC 4 on Saturday at 10pm. For details, visit www.mbc.net

Updated: March 24, 2019 07:23 PM

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