Ductac sets the stage for a buzzing performing-arts season

The ninth season is packed with dramas, festivals, concerts and plays in more than nine languages. We take you through what to expect in the first half of the upcoming theatre season.

Arabian Nights was the judges’ favourite at last year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Photo by Rachael Lowndes
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Ductac, the giant of Dubai’s buzzing performing-arts scene, is back with daring debuts and diverse family entertainers. Over the next few months, the theatre and arts centre at Mall of the Emirates will focus on contemporary plays and educational drama in no fewer than nine languages, world music concerts, award-winning productions for children, a one-day literary festival, and to finish things on a festive note, the Things Yule Like Christmas market at the end of the year.

The biggest draws are bound to be season opener One Thousand and One Arabian Nights – the judges' favourite at last year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and the thought-provoking, mature drama Burq Off! by United States-based writer Nadia P Manzoor, which is finally making its Dubai debut. Then there are performances featuring experimental melodies by world-renowned maestros such as Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst, and a slew of fun shows for children, including the Olivier award-nominated West End production Room on the Broom, based on the best-selling book by Julia Donaldson.

“We want to make theatre more quirky and accessible,” says Elizabeth Crowder, head of programming at Ductac. “There is a lot of family entertainment, more stories on stage and global shows coming to Ductac.”

The second-half of the season, next year, will be about engaging resident theatre groups through festivals. “We have good connections with the theatre community here and will take it to the next level in 2016. We also want to bring over not-for-profit groups from other GCC countries to perform next year.”

The kick-off

After a successful run at last year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe, United Kingdom-based theatre company, Story Pocket Theatre, will show their reimagined One Thousand and One Arabian Nights tales from September 24 to 26. Expect genies, swashbuckling villains, heroes and princesses in modern comic avatars in Aladdin, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves and the Fisherman and the Genie.

The highlights

The 450th birth anniversary of Shakespeare will be celebrated in style – Shakespeare’s Globe is making a stop at Ductac on October 10 as part of their world tour. The Globe to Globe two-year tour has the theatre company perform the Bard’s classic revenge tragedy Hamlet in every country in the world.

A cast of 16 artists and crew, led by artistic director Dominic Dromgoole, has already performed in more than 115 countries across America, Europe and Africa to 90,000 people.

Italian libretto Giacomo Puccini's three-act Madama Butterfly will be staged on November 12. Set in the 1900s, the tale of a young Japanese geisha will be set to recitals by Dubai's Soprano Monica De Rosa McKay (in the title role of Cio-Cio San), tenor Gian Luca Pasolini and B F Pinkerton. The elaborate, locally produced sets will accentuate the Oriental theme.

Burq Off! by Nadia P Manzoor continues to receive applause in the US and London for its ingenuity and hard-hitting observations. Manzoor takes on 21 different characters to tell the story of two opposing cultures – the modernity of the West and a conservative Pakistan.

The autobiographical journey has Manzoor switch between the roles of a domineering father, saucy English friend and an Islamic studies teacher, to portray her search for identity within societal norms. It will be staged on November 13 and 14.

Emirates NBD Classics

Moving away from a focus on South-Asian performances, the fourth edition of the Emirates NBD Classics will feature a range of musical artists from all over the world. Swedish clarinettist Martin Fröst will set the tone for the season with a two-hour recital showcasing pieces by Brahms, Bartok and Schumann on September 11. The 44-year-old wind instrumentalist, known for his technical prowess and bold compositions, has performed with the Wiener Symphoniker, Los Angeles Philharmonic, City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Stockholm Philharmonic orchestras.

On October 2, Grammy-winning Hindustani classical music instrumentalist Vishwa Mohan Bhatt will take the stage for a concert of experimental fusion sounds. The 64-year-old artist plays the Mohan Veena (slide guitar), and won the Grammy for his album A Meeting by the River with American musician Ry Cooder.

Middle Eastern melodies will fill the hall when Lebanese oud player Charbel Rouhanna performs on November 6. The contemporary composer will bring his repertoire of Arabic folk married with modern tunes.

Persian classical music troupe, Dastan Ensemble, will keep the theme of diversity going with a performance on December 4. Performers include barbat player Hossein Behroozinia, tar and sitarist Hamid Motebassem; Kamancheh player Saeed Farajpouri, and percussionists Pejman Hadadi and Behnam Samani.

The French connection

Most of the French theatre shows in the first half of the season will be spearheaded by the resident company, Cultural Emulsion, at Ductac. The young theatre group will start with a celebration of 20th-century singer-songwriter Jacques Brel in Ce Soir J’attends Madeleine on October 7. The poetic concert, set with a theatrical treatment, will be embellished by the voices of three artists performing 20 of his songs, and will surpass language barriers to appeal to a universal music-loving audience.

Following that, the group will bring the French language production Le Porteur D’Histoire, which has toured the world, for a Middle East debut on October 22.

The play, about a man who loses his father during the French Revolution, and referencing everyone from Lysistrata to Marie-Antoinette, was conceived by actor and playwright Alexis Michalik (it won him the Molière Award for Best Playwright in 2011).

From December 9 to 12, Cultural Emulsion will put on Un Diner D’Adieu, a drama about a couple looking to clean up their social circle with farewell parties for people they want to “friendly divorce”.

An Indian affair

Coming later this year are theatre veterans and Bollywood actors Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta – they will be seen in a light drama about two lovers who meet 35 years after parting ways in New Delhi.

The play is by writer and director Rakesh Bedi. Indian classical music lovers have a lot to look forward to this season. As part of their annual series Elements, events company Tambourine Live will be bringing santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma for the Jal (Water) concert. Representing the five elements, the musical series began last year with a performance by flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia and continues with Sharma's haunting percussions on October 23.

Resident talent

This season has a satisfying mix of international productions and resident theatre mavericks putting on collaborative and experimental shows. Danú Theatre will be deviating from their usual repertoire of Irish plays to put on I am Yusef and This is my Brother from October 7 to 10. Written by Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi, the play explores humanity and love in the context of loss and death in his community.

The play is the first in a season of three that will expose the “burden of history on the present”. The Dubai chapter of Emfasis Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation that helps the vulnerable and socially excluded groups, will be supporting theatre group Shenes and Scenes, in their effort to bring family-friendly Greek theatre to audiences on November 7.

Child’s play

After two sell-out shows last year, the UAE’s resident magician Magic Phil will shake it up a bit with Arabian-themed production on November 20 and 21. With a whole lot of tricks, special effects and improvisation, the magician uses his powers to impress an Arab princess.

Room on the Broom, the much-loved tale about a witch and her cat, and the creatures they meet while flying on their broom, runs from November 23 to 28. The story by Julia Donaldson has been adapted by UK-based theatre company Tall Stories for a musical featuring slapstick situations and puppetry to keep children (three years and above) entertained.

In Augustin Pirate des Indes, Augustin goes on an Indian Ocean voyage with a group of children and discovers the wonders of India. The kids will love the scenes in which they ride a humpback whale, escape tigers and meet a princess. From November 27 to 28.

Christmas comes early to Ductac this year with Santa Claus and the Christmas Adventure. Expect songs, stories and poems during the colourful 40-minute production, which is followed by a meet-and-greet with Santa. From December 11 to 12.

Art For All Dubai will showcase Moscow City Ballet’s popular productions Giselle and Sleeping Beauty, a two-act tragedy about a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart. From November 19 to 21.

Cinderella (the Pantomime) is also coming to town, bringing along her evil stepsisters, Prince Charming, and of course, her precious glass slippers. The show boasts a cast of international and local actors and is being produced by the Dubai’s H2 Productions. From December 22 to 29.

• For ticket information and timings, visit www.ductac.ae. For show updates, follow @DUCTAC