Kennedy Center: ARABESQUE- Arts of the Arab World

Classic Arts Features   Kennedy Center: ARABESQUE- Arts of the Arab World
This February and March, the Kennedy Center's ARABESQUE: Arts of the Arab World festival explores that region's rich culture through theatre, music and dance. The festival runs Feb. 23 to March 15.

From the Persian Gulf to the Levant to North Africa: the Arab world is the birthplace of human civilization and features extraordinary diversity in geography, traditions, landscape, religion, and contemporary aesthetics. The Kennedy Center in cooperation with the League of Arab States presents ARABESQUE: Arts of the Arab World, an international festival showcasing the varied cultures of the 22 Arab nations that represent the Arabic-speaking world. The three-week festival (February 23 _March 15) brings together artists, many of whom are making their U.S. debut, in performances of music, dance, and theater, as well as literary discussions, films, and exhibitions featuring art installations, fashion, cuisine, a souk (market), and much more.


Whether addressing social reality, changing our perspective on the world, or holding a mirror up to life, plays can take the moral temperature of a nation and offer a panoramic portrait of its societies. The plays included in ARABESQUE are riveting yet told with humor, humanity, and beauty representing some of the best work of the most renowned authors, directors, and actors of the Arab world.

Created by Palestinian artists as a response to the conflict in their homeland, Alive from Palestine: Stories Under Occupation by Ramallah's Al-Kasaba Theater & Cinematheque comes to the Terrace Theater on February 26 and 27. Variety calls the production "heartfelt and witty," while the New York Times declares it to be "poignant" and "quite touching." These stories of ordinary life lived in the most extraordinary circumstances put a human face to the Palestinian experience as told by actors from the only professional multi-purpose venue in the Palestinian territories. Performed in Arabic with English surtitles.

On March 6 in the Family Theater, Heather Raffo, author and actress of the award-winning one-woman show 9 Parts of Desire, teams up with accomplished Iraqi jazz trumpeter and santoor (an Indian stringed instrument) player Amir El Saffar for In Concert: The Sounds of Desire, a dramatic evening of spoken word and melodic solos.

Shakespeare's tale of royal intrigue takes on powerful new meanings in a modern Arab context in Richard III: An Arab Tragedy. As it unfolds within the hothouse, feudal atmosphere of desert palaces in an oil-rich Kingdom, the production gives a glimpse into the often misunderstood world of the Persian Gulf in all its complexities. Commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company, this production was adapted by Kuwaiti writer/director Sulayman Al-Bassam. London's The Guardian calls it "a punchy, irreverent makeover that retools Shakespeare for the world of Saddam, the CIA, and the House of Saud." It receives its U.S. premiere March 6 and 7 in the Terrace Theater. Performed in Arabic with English surtitles.

Tunisia's Familia Productions brings Khamsoun (meaning 50 in Arabic) to the Terrace Theater March 14 and 15. Written by Jalila Bakar and directed by Fadhel Jaibi, The play spans 50 years in Tunisia's history: from the country's independence up until 2006. It traces the story of Amal, the daughter of two leftist militants who is arrested following the suicide bombing of her teacher friend in the courtyard of the school. Khamsoun celebrates Tunisia's independence while also addressing the problems facing Tunisian society after 50 years of freedom, including fundamentalism and lack of civil and political freedoms. Performed in Arabic with English surtitles.


ARABESQUE offers a mesmerizing display of the movement and metaphor of dance in all of its forms.

On February 24 in the Terrace Theater, Moroccan choreographer Khalid Benghrib leads his all-male contemporary dance company, Cie2k_far in its U.S. premiere with The Smala B.B, a work lauded for "its fantastical imagery and remarkable performers" (The New York Times).

On February 27 in the Eisenhower Theater, the Whirling Dervishes of Aleppo join with Syria's Ensemble Al-KindêÎ for "Sufi Trance from Aleppo." Of the whirling dervish, the Chicago Sun-Times says, "The graceful, otherworldly dance is filled with cosmic symbolism." Ensemble Al-KindêÎ, founded in 1983 by the French virtuoso of Arab zither (qê¢nê_n) Julien Jê¢lal Eddine Weiss, is currently rated among the best groups devoted to classical Arab music.

Lebanon's Caracalla Dance Theatre is the first and most prominent dance theater in the Middle East. It was founded in 1968 by its artistic director Abdel-Halim Caracalla, who is credited with "devising and producing...entertaining, exotic, and exciting dance-drama" (Daily Telegraph). Their unique language in movement draws on western-style technique fused with Arab traditions. February 28 and March 1 in the Opera House, Caracalla performs Knights of the Moon, a theatrical extravaganza staged by an internationally acclaimed creative team with an original musical score and innovative choreography. The production, a tale of jealousy, hidden identities, and love, "blends the great of the Orient with the earthiness of Western modern dance" (Evening Standard). Songs will be performed in Arabic with English surtitles.

France's Cie La BARAKA makes its Washington, D.C. premiere on March 3 in the Terrace Theater with Allegoria Stanza, a piece for seven contemporary and three hip hop dancers, set against Charles Picq's videos of water. Fusing these elements to stunning effect, Artistic Director and choreographer Abou Lagraa "does the unexpected" (Seattle Post-Intelligencer).

Egyptian dancer and choreographer Karima Mansour makes her North American debut on March 4 in the Family Theater with Temporament, a duet with percussionist Ahmad Compaor_ that shows a woman struggling to escape traditional forms of behavior. The work won first prize at the 2004 Egypt-France Dance Festival.

Belgium-based Compagnie Thor makes its D.C. debut on March 10 and 11 in the Terrace Theater with Artistic Director and choreographer Thierry Smits's D'ORIENT. Following a number of trips to the Arab world, Smits brought back images flooded with light, filled with sensuality and generosity, beauty and disorder. The piece does not attempt any political analysis; it was inspired by characteristics of a civilization, by its people, traditions, myths, and dreams with the goal of interpreting them through contemporary dance.

Emmy winner and Kennedy Center favorite Debbie Allen is back with OMAN...O Man!, a world premiere Kennedy Center commission presented in association with the Sultan Qaboos Cultural Center of Oman. Created and choreographed by Allen, this ground-breaking, dance-driven extravaganza explores the culture of Oman. It features young Omani performers collaborating with their peers from Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. to original music composed by Grammy-winning trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. For age 9 and up. OMAN...O Man! plays the Eisenhower Theater March 12 _15.


Arab music is truly music of the world. Its influence has reached around the globe to shape secular, sacred, and classical music traditions dating back to ancient times. The music being presented as part of ARABESQUE is almost a festival unto itself. Traditional or contemporary, sacred or secular: these Arab sounds will be in the air for three solid weeks at the Kennedy Center.

Based in Doha, the newly formed Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra with Marcel Khalif_, music director and resident composer, makes its international debut February 24 in the Opera House. Maestro Lorin Maazel conducts the Arab and western musicians of the orchestra in a program that features Beethoven's powerful and ageless Symphony No. 5 and two new works by Khalif_.

Led by Bachir Attar, Morocco's Master Musicians of Jajouka represent an ancient musical tradition. Appearing February 25 in the Eisenhower Theater, they play music comprised of several simple parts intricately woven together, resulting in "an evocation of sustained ecstasy...utterly intoxicating"(Newsweek).

Appearing on a special double-bill on March 2 in the Eisenhower Theater are Farida and the Iraqi Maqam Ensemble and Mauritania's Malouma. The Iraqi Maqam Ensemble with singer Farida Mohammad Ali is considered to be one the most important in reviving the Iraqi musical genre of maqam. Malouma's music is a melding of western styles to the Moorish music of the Sahara that adds electric guitars to traditional instruments.

The period from the 1920s to the 1950s is considered a "golden age" of song in many parts of the Arab world. Simon Shaheen, one of the leading Arab composers and multi-instrumentalists, brings this era back to life with an exciting new multimedia project called Aswat: Celebrating the Golden Age of Arab Music. With a traditional, 12- to 15-piece Arab orchestra and special guest vocalists on March 6 in the Eisenhower Theater, Shaheen directs an evening of classic, unforgettable melodies, soul-stirring voices, and lush orchestral arrangements.

One of the most celebrated Arab musicians and composers, oud player Marcel Khalif_ has been referred to as the "Dylan of the Middle East." With his group Al Mayadine Ensemble, he has performed all over the world, showcasing original works that rely not only on the music, but reflect his deep attachment to the lyrics as well. On March 7 in the Eisenhower Theater, his association with great contemporary Palestinian poet the late Mahmoud Darwish comes to the fore in And We Love Life...A Salute to Mahmoud Darwish.

Egyptian jazz pianist Fathy Salama grew up listening to the radio, which broadcasted artists who influenced him so much that he decided to become a musician. His music reflects his tireless efforts to bridge traditional and modern music from the Orient. In 2004, Salama collaborated with Youssou N'Dour on the Grammy Award _winning album, Egypt. In his program Sultany, he plays with his orchestra in the Terrace Theater on March 8.

The festival also includes daily free performances on the Millennium Stage.

For a complete listing of festival events, please visit

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