The people of the United Arab Emirates are proud of their heritage and diversity, both of which are richly celebrated in Zayed and the Dream. Presented by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and Lebanon’s Caracalla Dance Theatre, Zayed and the Dream celebrates the life and accomplishments of the UAE’s founding father, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, through a series of scenes integrating video, dance and narrative.
The story centers around the ideals of Sheikh Zayed – ideals that laid the foundation for the UAE. In the opening scene, seven horsemen, representing the seven pillars (wisdom, courage, justice, faith, righteousness, honor and patience), ride to Zayed. Throughout the production, each of the virtues is imparted to the young Zayed, and the consequences of these actions are seen through the unification and then the development of the UAE. Thus, Zayed’s dream of a united, cultured and technological nation is realized.
The sold-out crowd consisted of a strong mix of Arab and non-Arab patrons. And coming from Synetic Theater, I was excited to see a production that also fused multiple media and art forms – dance, song, video and text.
However, for an audience with a Western theater sensibility, the narrative was unexpected: the title character did not exhibit a level of fallibility or vulnerability, something that is expected of our traditional Western protagonists. This left me wanting more from the story and characterization: an obstacle the character must overcome. Also, in many instances, the narrative – translated from Arabic to English using surtitles (which really were side-titles) – distracted from the visual and auditory storytelling and did not further the understanding or delight of the work. Yet, it was refreshing to see a piece that honors the culture and successes in the Middle East versus messages that vilify its people, cultures and religions.
Thus, this production is best viewed as simply a celebration of a life of achievement, told through the Caracalla Dance Theatre. The production excelled where the storytelling was the most simple, highlighting the beauty in the dance itself. As I am a strong proponent of the education of women in the Muslim world and of science and math education, my favorite sequence by Caracalla was the female corps depicting the higher education of the women, along with accompanying projections of equations from physics and chemistry. The dance was full of joy and utilized student desks as props seamlessly. Similarly, the dance of the male corps learning the alphabet was another highlight, full of humor and fun, as it harkened back to my own days in Sunday school.
Integrated video in scenes stunningly added depth and color. In one of the most visually compelling pieces, a dancer swam serenely “underwater,” enhanced by the projections on the front and back that gave it a dreamy, floating atmosphere.
Although Caracalla is from Lebanon, the production concluded with a mix of dance styles and troupes from around the world, including selections by dance companies from the UAE, China, Spain and the Ukraine. This served to underscore the true vision of the UAE: a unified Arab state that welcomes other cultures and celebrates diversity.
Ultimately, it was this message of unity and inclusion that made me want to visit the UAE by the end of the night, thereby surely fulfilling the dream of the producers and the UAE’s founding father.
Salma Qarnain is the Managing Director of Synetic Theater for whom she is also a Senior Company Member. She is a four-time Helen Hayes Award nominee and a two-time recipient. She holds degrees in engineering and business. This review is her personal opinion and in no way reflects the opinions of Synetic Theater.