Ivan Caracalla brings Sheikh Zayed musical back home

Dubai seats sold out tonight after shows in London and Paris form musical on life of founding President of UAE that began in Abu Dhabi.

Dancers from the musical Zayed and the Dream rehearse at the Palladium theatre in Dubai yesterday.
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DUBAI // The director of a musical celebrating the life of Sheikh Zayed, the founding President of the UAE, and his role in unifying the seven emirates is looking forward to bringing the production home.

Zayed and the Dream, which first played in Abu Dhabi on National Day 2008 and features a cast of 158 dancers, seven horses and 10 falcons, begins a three-night programme at the Palladium theatre in Dubai with a sold-out performance for VIPs and the public tonight.

The show was staged in Palais des Congres in Paris last May and at the London Coliseum for a two-night run in August. Bringing it back to the UAE completes a cycle that Ivan Caracalla hopes he can repeat.

He said portraying the founder of the UAE had been challenging but rewarding.

"It has been a very big responsibility to present a production about such a hugely respected leader, and especially one that half the audience knew," he said.

"There was no room for artistic interpretation. We had to be real and sensitive, but also represent all the facets to Sheikh Zayed's personality and leadership. It was testament to the vision of Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage [Adach] that we managed to achieve it."

Caracalla, 41, is the artistic director of the Caracalla Dance Theatre, a Lebanese dance company based in Beirut and founded by his father, Abdel-Halim Caracalla, in 1970.

After Adach commissioned the company in 2008 to make a theatrical interpretation of Sheikh Zayed's life, Caracalla and his crew spent three months researching their subject. They were allowed full access to sections devoted to Sheikh Zayed's life in the National Centre for Documentation and Research, and at his former home in Al Ain. They also stayed with some of his former companions in their desert homes.

"We always knew who Sheikh Zayed was, but after our research we discovered the man, the father and the friend," said Caracalla. "The concept of the show came from this inspiration."

The two-part production opens with seven horsemen on a journey through the desert searching for their leader, each representing an aspect of Sheikh Zayed's personality as well as symbolising the seven emirates.

Upon discovering Zayed the child, they stay with him and teach him the qualities of honour, patience, justice, righteousness, courage, faith and wisdom. As he grows into a man and fulfils their expectations, the desert stage transforms into the skyscrapers of the modern-day UAE.

"Sheikh Zayed planted the seeds of what we are living in today in the UAE," said Caracalla.

One of the biggest challenges was finding someone to play the lead role - to the point that Caracalla considered using only voice and light. In the end he settled on Yasser al Masri, a Jordanian actor, for the role.

"He spent 40 days learning how to walk like Sheikh Zayed, hold a stick like Sheikh Zayed and talk like Sheikh Zayed," said Caracalla. "He also spends three hours in make-up before every show, so he looks just like the real thing."

The final scene of Zayed and the Dream features al Masri surrounded by dancers from Ukraine, Spain and China (to represent the multicultural communities of the UAE) in front of a backdrop of the gleaming city Abu Dhabi is set to become by 2030.

The musical provided a visual spectacle that audiences in the Arab world were not used to seeing, said Caracalla.

"The country is rooted in the Bedouin tradition but heading towards the future at the speed of light, that's what we are trying to show here on stage," he said. "We hope it will be remembered 100 years from now."

Tickets for the show, which begins at 8.30pm, cost Dh175, Dh300 and Dh450, and are available through www.timeouttickets.com.