Theatre comes of age in Dubai with the city set to hold the world premiere of an original rock opera titled Shakuntala. The musical, based on the famous work by Kalidas, the legendary Indian poet, is produced by GEMS ARTS and written, scored and directed by Kevin Oliver.
The world premiere of the musical will be held on April 19 at the state-of-the-art Wellington Theatre in the recently opened Wellington International School on Shaikh Zayed Road.
Public performances will run from April 20 to April 26. Two matinee performances will be held exclusively for school students at 2pm and the evening performances will start at 8pm daily.
Tickets, priced at Dh20 for the matinee shows and Dh100 for the evening shows, are available at all GEMS schools.
Set centuries ago in ancient India, Shakuntala is the story of a hermit girl who steals the heart of a king. The classic love story has several emotional twists and turns before the final happy ending.
Oliver's contemporary English adaptation of the original Sanskrit verse blends modern rock and jazz music, classical Indian instrumental music, traditional Indian dance and costumes, a fabulous set and international and local talent to present a refreshing theatre experience that should appeal to all nationalities.
Oliver, who is the cultural co-ordinator for GEMS is well known in Dubai for the many successful musicals he has directed for GEMS schools such as Cats, Starlight Express, Saturday Night Fever, The Circle of Life and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. It has been his long-time dream to stage Shakuntala.
"I wrote and composed the lyrics 10 years ago and have been trying to stage this show since then. I moved to Toronto a few years ago for this purpose but the response from producers was extremely disappointing. Thanks to the support of Sunny Varkey, chairman of GEMS, I have been able to realise my dream of presenting something that is original, quintessentially Indian yet contemporary in flavour," he says.
"I am thrilled that my show is premiering in Dubai because it is such a happening city," he adds.
Oliver confesses that he did not plan to look for an Indian story. "I was reluctant because my training and stage experience are in western music. But on the suggestion of a GEMS faculty member I began researching an English translation of Shakuntala by Dr Kedarnath Dasgupta, and discovered so many layers in the story. It took hold of me so much that I had 22 songs ready in just two months," he recalls.
Kevin Oliver has put together an international cast of over 50 talented singers and actors. His Shakuntala is played by Bianca Gomes, a GEMS alumnus, who is now a professional singer in Mumbai and King Dushyant is played by professional Canadian theatre actor Sterling Jarvis. Actors from Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai as well as GEMS students, teachers and parents complete the cast.
While the actors in India and Canada rehearse their parts with the help of recorded tracks, a group of dancers headed by classical dancer and singer Geetha Rajagopalan are hard at work in Dubai choreographing the dances for the show.
"It is a challenge to synchronise Kathakali, Odissi and Bharat Natyam dance moves to rock and jazz beats, but we are trying our best because we want to give the rock opera an Indian touch," says Rajagopalan.
During the performance, the recorded tracks and the live singing by the actors will further blend with a live orchestra comprising the tabla, piano, flute and other instruments. "The entire story will be presented through songs woven together by a narrator. With singers and dancers performing at different levels on the three-tiered stage there will be a lot of action and drama keeping the audience totally involved throughout the two-hour presentation," says Oliver.
He has researched medieval costumes, traditional hairstyles and the jewellery worn in those times to create an Indian look with a contemporary twist. "This is the first time something from our rich Indian literature is being performed as a rock opera. I want to take the show to India and around the world. And my dream is that some day Disney will make it into an animated film," says Oliver.
- Shakuntala: A rock opera in English presented by GEMS ARTS
- Dates: Public performances from April 20 to April 26 at 8pm daily
- Venue: Wellington Theatre, Wellington International School on Shaikh Zayed Road, Dubai.
- Tickets: Priced at Dh100 are available at all GEMS schools.