A guide to Abu Dhabi Festival 2021: Ballet, jazz and a documentary about Sheikh Zayed on line-up

The annual festival returns with a diverse array of performances that will be streamed online

Scottish violinist Nicola Benedetti, pictured, will perform onstage with US jazz master Wynton Marsalis. Admaf
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

A new symphony, a performance by the American Ballet Theatre, a guest appearance by a jazz master and a documentary on Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, will form part of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Festival.

After this year's event was cancelled as a safety measure against the coronavirus, the festival returns next year with a predominantly digital suite of concerts recorded in the region and Europe.

While performance dates will be announced closer to the event, the programme – which kicks off in February – will span nine months and include concerts, exhibitions and films, which will be screened on the Abu Dhabi Festival website.

Additional concerts will be physically staged in the US and Europe, such as Palestinian crooner Omar Kamal's show in New York's Lincoln Centre in November, and Mohamed Briouel and Kudsi Erguner's joint show in Brussels in June.

When it comes to what we will see online, shows will include performances by US jazz master Wynton Marsalis, UK violinist Nicola Benedetti and Iraqi oud maestro Naseer Shamma, a new symphony by Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz and a new production by the American Ballet Theatre.

The event is running under the theme of The Future Starts Now and is organised by the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation. Festival founder Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo says staging it amid a challenging period is a testament to the UAE's resolve to energise the cultural sector, which has been severely impacted by the pandemic.

"Since its inception, the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation maintained its great ambition to advance culture and offer a platform where we come together as equals to exchange knowledge, while showing respect and appreciation," she says. "This vision stems from our belief that culture is not optional but rather is the essence of our human existence."

Below are some of the online performances to look forward as part of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Festival.

‘Hekayat: Symphonic Tales’ by Ihab Darwish (February)

Emirati composer Ihab Darwish

After launching his debut album Waves of my Life in a 2018 show at Emirates Palace, the Emirati composer will return to the festival to premiere his new album Hekayat: Symphonic Tales. The piece will be performed by Poland's Beethoven Academy, the same ensemble behind Darwish's National Day ode Aim for the Sky, which was unveiled this month at Dubai's Palm Fountain.

‘Al Hayat’ by Naseer Shamma (February/March)

The latest composition by the Iraqi oud legend has been informed by today's trying circumstances. The song title means "the life" and the performance will be shot in Abu Dhabi. Shamma will team up with a regional ensemble for a stirring work that speaks of a world in flux.

‘Story of the Violin’ with Nicola Benedetti (date to be announced)

The Scottish violinist, who commands pop star status in the UK, will return to the Abu Dhabi Festival for a showcase of the instrument she mastered aged just 15. The intimate London concert will feature works by Bach and Paganini as well as a guest appearance from American jazz legend, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis.

‘The Fifth Symphony’ by Mohammed Fairouz (October)

Emirati composer Mohammed Fairouz's new piece is inspired by Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father. Courtesy Admaf

For his show, broadcast from London, the Emirati composer will team up with the London Symphony Orchestra for his latest work, inspired by the life of Sheikh Zayed. The work follows his composition Jabal Hafit, which received its world premiere at New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall in 2018.

Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra (October)

Emirates Youth Symphony Orchestra will perform as part of Abu Dhabi Festival. Admaf

Established in 1994 by Syrian-Czech violinist Riad Kudsi, this ensemble was one of the earliest classical music groups in the UAE and has performed at various festivals over the years. For their latest Abu Dhabi show, the group will perform a repertoire that includes Beethoven, Camille Saint-Saens and Georges Bizet. The concert will also feature a guest artist, the young Brazilian violinist Guido Felipe Sant Anna.

‘The Future Starts Now’ by the American Ballet Theatre (November)

American Ballet Theatre will perform a special show for Abu Dhabi Festival. Admaf

A suite of mini performances will feature dancers from the world-famous American Ballet Theatre. Created and shot in “quarantined ballet bubbles”, the event is not so much a showcase of the company’s depth of talent but an innovative project that could pave the way forward for an art form largely halted in the wake of the pandemic.

‘Al Ain Hajar Al Ruha (1946-1966)’ by filmmaker Nasser Al Dhaheri (date to be announced)

In the documentary 'Al Ain Hajar Al Ruha (1946-1966)' Nasser Al Dhaheri explores the life of Sheikh Zayed prior to the founding of the UAE. Admaf

Premiering as part of the festival, the new documentary by Emirati director Nasser Al Dhaheri explores the life of Sheikh Zayed in the years preceding the formation of the UAE.

The film looks at the challenging landscape of the time and provides insight into a visionary leader and some of the decisive steps taken in the lead-up to the country's founding.

The full Abu Dhabi Festival programme is available at  abudhabifestival.ae