It is tough to imagine Abu Dhabi’s cultural landscape before the arrival of NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre in 2015. Its annual season of events, comprising of concerts, exhibitions and performances, not only made the capital a destination for those seeking thoughtful art, but the centre also played an instrumental role in building a tight knit community of culture lovers.
For the fifth season, the centre returns with a hefty programme exploring culture and tradition, in addition to providing a platform to a new generation of regional and international talent.
Running under the theme of ‘connection’ and inspired by the Year of Tolerance, artistic director Bill Bragin says the centre’s offerings are built on the back of a strong network of cultural partnerships.
“In the relatively short period of time since we’ve opened, we’ve built terrific collaborations with a wide number of partners in the government and in the country’s cultural and diplomatic communities, and we’ve watched a diverse audience embrace our adventurous approach to programming,” he said.
As well as performances by Scotland’s innovative theatre company Vox Motus and the esteemed troupe Circus Abyssinia, the festival will bring back the much loved world music extravaganza, Barzakh Festival in an expanded format.
This year’s edition features South African funk group BCUC and future Rai music star Sofiana Saidi. With more than 100 performances, including three world premieres and 14 UAE debuts, there is a lot to unpack regarding the latest season, so make sure to check out the website for the full program.
But, here are our highlights: the opener is on September 5, with the season stretching out until the first quarter of 2020.
Opening night: Ethiopian Dreams by Circus Abyssinia
Storytelling, acrobatics and pulsating music come together in the Middle Eastern debut by Ethiopia’s Circus Abyssinia. Performing on September 5 and 6, the troupe from Addis Ababa will present a fast-moving production that will not only thrill audiences with the obligatory death-defying routines, but also enchant with a tale following two brothers in search of adventure.
The show will also be full of the mesmerising rhythms that make up Ethiopian folk music, so bring along your dancing shoes as well.
A world of dance: Ansaf by Sima Dance Company and tribute to Merce Cunningham
The development of Sima Dance Company can only be described as inspiring. Founded in the Syrian capital Damascus in 2003 by renowned Palestinian choreographer Alaa Krimed, the group moved to a Beirut Studio in 2012 and assembled a formidable troupe that went on to win the television contest Arabs Got Talent in 2014.
Now based in Dubai, they have been commissioned by the NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre to present the world premiere of Ansaf. Running on August 23 and 24 and inspired by the work of Canadian philosopher Alan Deneault, the show explores the relationship between consumerism and populism.
In another show, one of the masters of 20th century dance choreography will be celebrated on stage. In a collaboration between director Robert Swinston and France's National Centre for Contemporary Dance/Angers, two of Merce Cunningham's masterpieces, 1999's multi-media production Biped and 1965's How to Pass, Kick, Fall & Run, will be performed on October 30.
The beat goes on: Barzakh Festival and other concerts
The Barzakh Festival is fast becoming the region’s best world music gathering. The fourth edition (to run in the first quarter of 2020) will be in full festival mode with six live performances taking place nightly across three separate stages.
This means a lot of evocative music on the way. Announced already are BCUC, who through their electrifying live shows and socially conscious lyrics provide a soundtrack to a changing South Africa. They will be joined by Bokante, a world music crew led by Michel League, the Grammy-Award-winning multi-instrumentalist behind the much-loved jazz collective Snarky Puppy.
Also on the way is Tunisian producer Ammar 808 who will bring his north African infused electro beats, Algeria's Rai singer Sofiane Saidi and Cuba's La Dame. The latter group will surely get the dance floor heaving with their brand of hip-hop, cumbia and dancehall.
For those looking to explore the sounds of the region, don't miss out on the Sufism vs Modernism concert on September 26. A partnership between composers Fathy Salama and Sheikh Mahmoud Tohamy, the performance will fuse the otherworldly harmonies of Sufi chanting with contemporary Egyptian Jazz.
Trailblazing pianist Awadagin Pratt will perform in the capital on December 5. The first African American to win the prestigious Naumburg International Piano Competition in 1992, Pratt has built an acclaimed international performance career, which also includes appearing in a 2000 episode of Sesame Street. His recital will include works by Beethoven and Brahms.
Contemporary Emirati theatre: Al Raheel
To be performed on January 24 and 25, Al Raheel is built from a series of poems by emerging Emirati playwright Reem Almenhali. Teaming up with award-winning American director and NYU Abu Dhabi professor Johanna Settle, the production touches upon various aspects of womanhood and offers a meditation on how life can change us all.
The return of the favourites: Hekayah and Rooftop Rhythms
An artistic celebration of the UAE, November 26's Hekayah gathers a select and diverse group of UAE creative, who through poetry, prose and song, celebrate the country's rich culture and heritage.
Meanwhile, one of the region's longest running poetry open mic nights will kick off in September. On a Friday of each month, locally based artists are provided a platform to showcase their talent in front of an appreciative crowd. The point of the event is to foster locally based talent, so make sure to perform an original piece of work.
CinemaNA also returns with more screenings of contemporary Arabic films to run on selected Monday nights. Dates for the first Rooftop Rhythms and CinemaNa sessions will be revealed soon.
For the full list of shows for the 2019-2020 season, go to www.nyuad-artscenter.org