It is no exaggeration to call the Caracalla Dance Theatre one of the Arab world's most significant artistic success stories. Growing from a one-man passion project to a mammoth globetrotting dance troupe, the company's eccentric and eclectic mix of styles has remained a constant bubbling presence on the dance circuit for almost half a century.
In the late 1960s, Abdel-Halim Caracalla returned to his native Lebanon after studying dance under the tutorship of famed American choreographer Martha Graham at the newly inaugurated London School of Contemporary Dance. From this wealth of international dance knowledge the Caracalla Dance Theatre soon grew, laid upon foundations intended to bridge stylistic and cultural gaps between Europe and the Middle East. As Abdel-Halim's son and the company's principal director Ivan puts it, Caracalla uses "the alphabet of Western technique to interpret Oriental movement," and it does so to impressive effect.
Yet, rather than a conceptual, abstract amalgamation of cultures, Caracalla's newest offering, Sailing Through Time, is an almost tangibly literal production in both a practical and narrative sense. After the success of the group's 2013 musical Kan Ya Ma Kan, Caracalla has hit the road again with an epic tale of the famed Silk Road trade route, with the added Kaufman-esque twist being that the production tour will follow the same path as the protagonists of the show itself, along with enlisting the help of dance troupes from India and China to hammer home Caracalla's painstaking dedication to authenticity.
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The Royal Opera House Muscat in Oman, which opened its doors in 2011, is the inaugural host of the 120-strong company, its immaculately pristine interior at beguiling odds with the controlled chaos of Sailing Through Time, a lightning-paced race from Lebanon through China to Venice and back again, chronicling kidnapping, marriage, war and even time itself. Yet rather than focusing on the purely transactional and commercial side of the trade route, Caracalla's aim is to, quite literally, sail through time by using the ancient diplomatic ties built by the Silk Road to reflect modern international relations.
"It's much more an international show than purely Lebanese," Ivan says. "Lebanon is a bridge between East and West, and we wanted Sailing Through Time to be a mirror of that. A show about the Silk Road can only be an international show, with scenes where the oriental aspects are more apparent, and scenes that are much more contemporary in style. It's a mixture of cultures."
Created for the 60th edition of the Baalbeck International Festival last year, the premiere was staged at the Bacchus Temple in Abdel-Halim Caracalla's home city, and thus an understandably rabid enthusiasm permeates Sailing Through Time as the company takes their story to the globe. This joyous fervour is epitomised by cavernous, ornate set designs, wild choreography and a surprising yet charming coda in which a lone singer belts compliments out into the gigantic venue, heaping praise on their host country and those who populate it. Allegedly a time-honoured Lebanese tradition to be a respectful guest, this gratitude is not lost on an audience of natives, who whoop and cheer at almost every mention of Oman's mountainous landscape, its opulent mosques or its revered leader, Sultan Qaboos bin Said.
"The message of harmony and friendship is always important - it's important now and it was important then," adds ROHM Director General Umberto Fanni, who helped bring the show to Oman. Fanni, who took over at the remarkable marble-clad venue in 2014 and invited Caracalla to take part in their 2016-17 programme, says Caracalla reminds audiences: "Don't ever lose sight of who you were, who you are, and who you are going to be.
"It doesn't matter if it's during war or peace, it's always important for cultures to mix and build bridges, and the show transmits this message of east meets west, and remembers to not focus too heavily on small particulars within international relationships, for fear of losing sight of the bigger picture."
As the dust settles after the rowdy, rapturous tornado that is Caracalla has passed through, ROHM is already making plans to further their staunchly international agenda with the launch of their varied 2017-18 programme, dubbed "A Legendary Season". As Umberto Fanni and his team bring focus onto the creation of in-house and co-productions as well as hosting well-known artists, ROHM will be graced by everything from Vietnamese acrobatic spectacle A O Show to Cliff Richard to guitarist Gilberto Gil, along with promoting a whole host of regional Arabic performers, including local Omani singer Salah Al Zadjali.
The influence of Fanni's directorial history can too be felt in the programme, with a whole host of Italian operas and concerts on show, including a production of Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci" directed by famed visionary Franco Zeffirelli, and "Homage to Luciano Pavarotti", a three-week multi-artist extravaganza celebrating the life of the legendary tenor on the tenth anniversary of his death.
Although Oman as a prospective destination for the performing arts will be sure to raise some western eyebrows, ROHM's diligently-planned schedule for the coming year is a testament to the venue's drive to stand as a beacon of internationalism and culture designed to appeal to all. With "A Legendary Season", ROHM is diving head first into the coming year, and is inviting you to join them.
A full list of what's on at Royal Opera House Muscat can be found here.
Caracalla Dance Theatre's production of Sailing Through Time will make its way to the following venues, though keep an eye on their Facebook page for exact dates:
- July/August 2017 - Theatre Casino Du Liban - Beirut
- September 2017 - Xian Silk Road Festival China
- Octobre 2017 - Kuwait Opera House
- March 2018 - National Centre for the Performing Arts Beijing - As well as China Tour
- June 2018 - Spoleto Festival USA
- Oct 2018 - Palais des Congres in Paris
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