x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Zayed and the Dream debuts in US

A lavish production of Zayed and the Dream with more than 100 performers was held at the Kennedy Centre in Washington, D.C.

The Caracella Dance Theatre performed Zayed and The Dream to sell-out audiences at the John F Kennedy Centre in Washington.
The Caracella Dance Theatre performed Zayed and The Dream to sell-out audiences at the John F Kennedy Centre in Washington.

WASHINGTON // Caracalla, the Lebanese dance company, brought its theatrical re-imagining of the life of the late President of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed and the founding of the country to an American audience for the first of four dates in the United States.

Zayed and the Dream, a lavish production featuring more than 100 artists and dancers from as far afield as China, Spain and Ukraine, as well as across the Arab world, received a warm welcome on Friday by a Washington crowd on the first of two packed nights at the Eisenhower Theatre in John F Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts.

The performances at the 1,100 seat theatre were sold out weeks ahead of the opening performance. Zayed and the Dream was heavily promoted in the American capital, with posters adorning city buses, and previewed widely in the local arts press, already well apprised of the Caracalla troupe from past Kennedy performances.

And though Zayed and the Dream has now been staged in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Beirut, Paris and London, performing in America is special, said Ivan Caracalla, director of the company. There is great respect for arts and culture in America, he said, and American audiences are always very receptive even at a time when presenting Arab culture in the West can be challenging,

"The problem is not the audience, It's always wonderful to meet the audience. The problem is the media," he said. "Unfortunately too much bad news has come from our part of the world and it's like a black blanket covers our region."

Reaching across cultural boundaries has long been the hallmark of the Caracalla company. Ivan Caracalla's father, Abdel Halim, a student of the late Martha Graham who developed the discipline of modern dance, founded the company in 1968.

It is the marriage of the western discipline of dance and the "voluptuousness of the east", in the words of Ivan Caracalla, that the Caracalla company has over the decades turned into its trademark, partly in an effort to bridge differences between cultures.

"We strongly believe that arts and culture are a great opportunity to break down barriers between peoples, to bring more respect for different cultures and, in the end, realise we are all one. We all dance to the same tune."

American audiences would benefit from exposure to challenge prevailing stereotypes about Arabs and Arab culture, said John Duke Anthony, who was in the audience on Friday.

"I think [the show] is superb. It is refreshing to see the virtues of peace and reconciliation being presented without cynicism. This sense of collectivism is rare in America where it is all about the individual. And it is important for Americans to realise that Arabs are not just about oil and conflict, that this is an extraordinarily rich culture."

Mr Anthony, who is also the president of the National Council on US-Arab Relations and serves on the US State Department's Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy, may have a more privileged insight than most, but his enthusiasm was also shared by Kieran Kestenbaum, a young DC-area actress.

"I'm really enjoying it," she said, singling out the "elaborate and sophisticated" production. "I'm not sure if most Americans can relate to such love for a leader, though. I think we are not used to think of our presidents in this way."

Zayed and the Dream, which was commissioned by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, moves to Los Angeles this month for two performances at the University of California.

There, suggested Mr Anthony, only a little tongue-in-cheek, the reception may not be quite so warm as at the Kennedy Centre.

'It's close to Hollywood, which has defamed Arabs in more than 400 movies over the years. The atmosphere may be a little different."

okarmi@thenational.ae