Tuesday, May 28: This afternoon my friend Kathy invites me at the last-minute to go to The Royal Opera House Muscat (ROHM) to see an amazing show put on by a Lebanese company, Caracalla Dance Theatre. The show, called Kan Ya Ma Kan, (Once Upon a Time) is filled with music, energetic dancing, and colorful exotic costumes. Sadly, no one is ever allowed to take photos of performances at the Royal Opera House, so I’m unable to show the dazzling and exotic costumes and sets that made this performance so stunning.
Kathy had originally planned to go with someone else who cancelled on her. I had made no plans to attend any more shows at the Royal Opera House before I left Oman, so it was a lovely surprise and an amazing farewell to the Arab world.
Kan Ya Man Kan is a trilogy that features old Arab tales and folklore, told through dance — choreographed by Alissar Caracalla — and some narration, combined with European music performed by the Armenian State Opera and Ballet Theatre Symphony Orchestra (Times of Oman: Arabian tales to be told at ROHM). According to the program, the orchestra was conducted by Maestro Mohamad Reza Aligholi and blended with the melodies of oriental instruments.
The first part used Russian composer Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s music Sheherazade and focused on King Shahryar. Based on One Thousand and One Nights, this orchestral work combines two features typical of Russian music and of Rimsky-Korsakov in particular: dazzling, colorful orchestration and an interest in the East (Wikipedia: Scheherazade (Rimsky-Korsakov)).
It then moved to Maurice Ravel’s music Bolero. The story was about a cunning wizard in an oriental market. This is my favorite part of the performance with its traditional Arab souq as a backdrop and exotic costumes in jewel tones of purple, royal blue, fuchsia, turquoise and pink. The costumes were stunningly made in mixtures of silks, chiffons, satins and velvets in mixed patterns, giving them a gypsy-like and bohemian feel. The dancing in this part was so amazingly choreographed that I just sat in awe of the colorful extravaganza.
The third and final part used traditional Arabic Heritage music and explored the cultures of the Arab world, including a tribute to Oman. The guest star singer for this part was Hoda Haddad, sister of the famous and widely respected Lebanese singer Nouhad Wadi Haddad, known as Fairuz. During Ms. Haddad’s songs, flashes of Oman’s famous landmarks (Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Al Alam Palace, Nakhal Fort, and many others) appeared on the screen behind, bringing enthusiastic applause from the audience.
This production was adapted from the original, which premiered last summer in Lebanon, to fit the ROHM and was inspired by the building itself, explained Ivan. “This is like the first opening because the show changed. It’s inspired by the architecture of the opera house. It’s tailor-made for Oman,” said Ivan (Times of Oman: Arabian tales to be told at ROHM).
According to Times of Oman, Caracalla Dance Theatre is based on the concept of fusing Eastern and Western traditions. Its founder, Abdel-Halim Caracalla, studied under the American dance legend Martha Graham, so the choreography is more international, as are some of the music choices. The music, however, has been adapted to include traditional Arab instruments like the oud, kanun, Arab percussion, and ney (Times of Oman: Arabian tales to be told at ROHM).
According to the performance details on the ROHM website: Ivan and Alissar maintain the cultural message of the Caracalla Theatre by transforming the Arab Heritage into an international art form with its dominant presence in the world of dance theatre.
Alissar is the founder of Studio Caracalla “L’Art de la Danse” and of the “Orientalist Dance Company”. She brings an innovative spirit to the unique Caracalla technique, to become the flame of present and future of the Arabic culture with her creative style in choreography, to amalgam the expression of the east and west in a unique dance style based on the Martha Graham technique.
This outstanding performance includes the guest participation of leading acting and singing stars of Lebanon including Hoda Haddad, Joseph Azar, Rifaat Torbey, Gabriel Yammine, Simon Obeid, and Toni Aad (ROHM: Performance Details).
Much of the performance harkened back to the days of Sultans and harems, and some of the sets made me think of Topkapı Palace, a large palace in Istanbul, Turkey, that was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans for approximately 400 years (1465-1856) of their 624-year reign (Wikipedia: Topkapı Palace).
The performance made me wonder what happened to the exotic and sensual Arabian world of old, which today, at least in Oman and other Gulf countries, has been turned into a cloistered world of white dishdashas and black abayas.