Right after the maghrib prayers one evening this week, Arabic poems and a narration of chapters from the life of the Prophet Mohammed filled the Al Majaz Island Theatre in Sharjah. It was the beginning of a rehearsal for Clusters of Light, a 90-minute piece that inaugurates Sharjah Islamic Culture Capital 2014 (SICC).
Last December, the international team of musicians, theatre professionals and technology experts who had been commissioned to develop the show had only drawings of the venue to work with.
This week, the work selected by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, the Ruler of Sharjah, to tell the story of Islam has become a production using more than 200 actors and 70 musicians, with cinematic visuals and live performances in a 7,238 square metre amphitheatre.
“This is a message of Islam to the world at large,” says Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, the chairman of the executive committee for SICC-2014. “Our endeavour narrates the story of Islam, its noble message and human values representing brotherhood, love and peace.”
The work chronicles the pre-Islamic era, the birth of the Prophet, his journey to Mecca and the emergence of Islam, told through music, narration and quotes from the Quran. The greatest challenge for the producers was to depict the Prophet without violating the strictures against personifying him.
“We represent him through lights,” says the director, Gavin Robins. “It was a beautiful challenge because we could create a more poetic interpretation of the presence of Mohammed.
“To show his birth, we have light emanating from a house on the horizon on screen. The light gives way to a sunrise, symbolising a light to humanity, which turns into calligraphy and holographic images.”
During the rehearsal, a 12-tonne cube slowly appears from behind white scrim. A computer-generated grid pops up and in seconds is replaced by animated images of a marketplace.
“This is not a cinema screen where you have one big projector,” says Hai Tran, the head of technology at Multiple & Spinifex Group, a Sydney-based creative projects company that produced the show. “This involves projecting from all over the arena to get the whole environment looking right.
“The cube is very dynamic. We use it as a stage and it also turns into the Kaaba during the show.”
Richard Lindsay, the head of creative for the company, says they have attempted to draw out the emotion of the story: “We are not creating history but moments where people feel deep within their hearts the love, respect and purity of the subject. At the same time we had to bring a spectacle quality, elements of theatrical magic.”
• Clusters of Light opens on Monday for the public and runs through the week. Show timings will be announced soon. Tickets are priced from Dh50 and can be purchased on ticketmaster.ae