Experts fly across world to help pupils translate Founding Father’s prose How Beautiful This World Is into a musical extravaganza and tribute to life in the UAE.
ABU DHABI // Sheikh Zayed’s poetry is the inspiration behind a student production at Cranleigh School Abu Dhabi that celebrates all that is beautiful about life in this country.
Eighty pupils ages 12 to 16 years were given four-and-a-half days to compose, write, choreograph and design Beautiful World, a 45-minute modern-day opera based on a poem written by the Founding Father titled How Beautiful This World Is.
The poem, translated into English by University of Oxford professor emeritus Clive Holes, pays homage to the abundant beauty of this land “her flowers blooming bright, Her trees and all her plenty, her fruits that eyes delight!”
The school enlisted a team of opera teachers and two professional opera singers from Britain to work with the youngsters through the weekend to bring the production to life.
“The students are using Sheikh Zayed’s poem as inspiration. They are creating the opera from scratch – composing, devising, developing the themes in the poem into a libretto, music, design and staging,” said Susan Hamilton, the school’s director of performing arts.
“They are interpreting the poem as building the city of Abu Dhabi and what is beautiful about our world here.”
Music director and composer Hannah Conway said the pupils began their project by discussing what they defined as beautiful about life in Abu Dhabi.
“They were talking about the amazing mix of cultures, that’s come up a huge amount. How incredible it is not only in the city, but in the school,” said Ms Conway. “Diversity comes up in one of the songs that they’re singing a lot.”
The students will recite or sing verses they have written in several languages to reflect the country’s multiculturalism.
“The students absolutely relish that,” said Ms Conway.
Emirati calligraphy artist Narjes Noureddine was recruited to display her artwork at the school and work with the pupils to design the set and costumes.
“They were inspired by my calligraphy paintings and thought of using Arabic calligraphy as the base of the opera concept, mixing western opera art and eastern Arabic calligraphy forms,” said Ms Noureddine. “The best storylines I’ve ever told in my artworks were the poems of Sheikh Zayed.
“How beautiful to see this project responding to such a beautiful poem for such a great leader. I’m quite sure that this project will be an unforgettable experience for every one working on it or attending it. In addition to performing a beautiful opera, the kids and the project team will discover the art of Arabic calligraphy, Nabati poetry as well as Sheikh Zayed – the poet.”
The staging of the student-produced opera is meant to serve as a model for other schools as part of their performing arts education, said Cranleigh headmaster Brendan Law.
“This blueprint, this pilot, if you’d like, is something which I believe could be rolled out across the whole nation,” said Mr Law. “Hopefully, this will catch the eyes and the attention of the leadership and we can take this forward in a bigger way.”
Mr Law said this performing arts project offered the youngsters a learning experience.
“The team that has come in has looked at our team as a professional company and they’ve treated them as such,” said Mr Law. “Our children have learnt resilience, they’ve learnt a whole host of skills through this project, but most importantly, they’ve learnt to bridge east and west. They’ve learnt about collaboration across the nations, they’ve learnt about the rich heritage and the tapestry of life in the UAE.”
Emirati Saif Al Owais, 12, who is the lead dancer in the production, said the experience has made him feel “very proud.”
“It’s a step forward for the school and I think it’s also a step forward for the UAE because it’s never been done before,” said Saif. “I learnt lots of things about my culture. It’s really nice to know the journey of my country and where it was and where it is now and I think it’s very nice to incorporate it into this piece to show the people the journey of this country and how lucky we are to be here.”
The public is invited to attend an open dress rehearsal at 4.30pm on Monday at the school’s auditorium. The main perform will begin at 7pm. Tickets are available at www.cranleigh.ae.