United in celebration: UAE out in force for National Day party
The 47th National Day celebrations played out in spectacular fashion at Zayed Sport City Stadium with a show starring 1,500 performers and live orchestral music by the UK’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra that bedazzled and charmed an audience of 22,000 spectators.
At the centre of it all was the story of one man, the country’s Founding Father, Sheikh Zayed, and how his values of conservation, humanitarianism and tolerance became those of a nation.
The show was nine months in the making with weeks of training for singers, dancers and 39 amateur puppeteers, who learnt to manipulate enormous custom-made puppets flown in all the way from Australia, a menagerie of 18 long-lashed gazelles, eight flamingos, six houbara birds, five Oryx, a desert fox and a caracal.
This is Zayed, This is the UAE began with a 20-minute recitation of Nabati poetry by Jumaa Al Suwaidi, whose vocal fortitude and patriotic compositions have earned him the moniker the Poet of the Nation.
Standing alone on stage, Al Suwaidi extolled the nation’s virtues, the sacrifice of its citizens, its strong foreign policy and tight kinship with Saudi Arabia.
His prose was met by spontaneous applause from a captive crowd.
Seated directly before him were leaders from all seven emirates, including the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Mohammmed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
The audience had begun to arrive hours before the show got underway, travelling from across the country to be part of the celebrations.
"Where are you Sheikh?" asked five-year-old Alya Al Hammadi as she waited in her UAE flag-dress for the show to start.
"She saw Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed's picture and has been waiting for him to arrive since we came at three," explained her older sister Lamya, 18.
Alya sat between her mother and six siblings, who were dressed in national colours and military fatigues.
"We were keen on coming this year as well because it is the Year of Zayed, so I'm sure it will be special," said the mother Fatima Al Shehhi, a 43-year-old Arabic language supervisor.
Her 11-year-old daughter Ghalia, and nine-year-old son Mansour wore UAE Armed Forces' uniforms for the occasion.
"Last celebration, my favourite part was seeing my grandmother perform during the show," said Ghalia. “She was weaving a traditional basket.”
The Bakran family had traveled from Dubai.
"I don't know when my family decided to come, they surprised me this morning and said we booked you a ticket let's go," said Lateefa Bakran, a 26-year-old Emirati engineer who came with her parents and seven-year-old sister.
"They said this will be the best celebration by far, so we got excited and came early. We left Dubai at 1pm.”
The story of the Emirates was relayed to the audience through the lens of Sheikh Zayed’s life.
The narrator was none other than Ahmed Khalifa Al Suwaidi, the man who read the declaration of the formation of the UAE in 1971.
The stage was transformed into a desert and the stadium filled with the poetry of the late Mohammed bin Ham, whose words exulted the virtues of generosity, honesty and sincerity that Sheikh Zayed shared with his grandfather, Sheikh Zayed bin Khalifa.
Minutes later, the desert was transformed by the arrival of Land Rovers. Explosions and flames filled the stadium, as the performance celebrated how Sheikh Zayed was able to realisee his dreams for his people with the discovery of oil.
Giant puppets of oryx, flamingos, houbara bustards and other wildlife roamed a stage as a choir chanted a poetry by Sheikh Zayed, paying homage to the beauty of the palm and blossoming flowers.
Men and women in military uniform then marched onto stage to form the borders of a new country. Lorries surrounded the stage and delivering aid, a nod to the humanitarian work of the UAE Red Crescent. In the background, a video of Sheikh Zayed meeting leaders from different countries and religious communities.
The show concluded with poetry praising the legacy of the Founding President and the Bedouin attributes of loyalty, bravery, forgiveness and honesty.
But not before the showstopper: moments before, the cameras flashed to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, typing a tweet that was broadcast live on the screen:
“Humans are greater than buildings, achievements are greater than a position. A country is greater than its people.”
On the Abu Dhabi Corniche, hundreds of families came out to catch the fireworks display as National Day ended with a bang.
In Dubai, the history of the emirate was told during a dance performance by artists at the Mall of the Emirates.
A performance lasting about 30 minutes celebrated Dubai's rapid transformation from desert landscape to a sparkling city in the sun.
Actors performed spectacular dance routines, some dressed as animals symbolic to the UAE like the oryx and falcon, and others dressed as fisherman to show how bedouin tribes used to live.
Pearl artists then took over the stage, to perform a contemporary dance set to live music.
That was followed by a falcon show and calligraphy writing display, where visitors were invited to join in.
Manoj Kumar, 36, from Kerala, was with his wife and two children to take in the show.
“This is a great way for the children to learn more about the country where they are growing up, and they loved the falcon,” he said.
A traditional Emirati band also performed a 15-minute dance.
They usually play at weddings and special occasions or heritage events, but one of the dancers, Nabil Al Shehwai said the National Day performances were always different.
“There are 20 of us in the band, and we have another person who is controlling the tempo and the kind of steps we will be doing,” said Mr Al Shehwai, an Emirati who works for the Ministry of Education.
“It is important to show our heritage, especially to people who may not know much about the Emirati culture.
“We have been doing this together for more than 20 years, so it is something we no longer need to practice. The dances we can do almost with our eyes closed.
“This is not just something we do for our National Day, we perform for other occasions and also overseas to show what the Emirati culture and heritage really means.
Similar Emirati cultural events were taking place across Dubai to celebrate the 47th National Day. On Friday night, a spectacular fireworks display lit up the sky over Al Seef at Dubai Creek, with more fireworks planned for Jumeirah Beach Residence on Saturday.
“With the long weekend, we have welcomed thousands of people from all nationalities and age groups to mark 47 years of UAE independence,” said Fawzi El Shehhi, managing director, Nakheel Community Management and Planning.