NAT_151229_ AL_FARIS_REHEARSALS Lebanese singer, Ghassan Saliba, during the rehearsals of 'Al Faris' (The Knight), a one-act play inspired by the poems of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Photo Zarina Fernandes/ Gulf News Image Credit: Zarina Fernandes/ Gulf News

Dubai: Dubai will welcome the New Year with a message of love and peace to the world with a large-scale musical play inspired by the poems of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-president and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Al Faris (The Knight), described as a unique contribution to Arab musical theatre, will be staged in the first week of January during the Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), breaking new ground in many aspects of production due to the innovative techniques being used to tell a compelling, allegorical story about a warrior’s journey.

Combining a range of visual and technological special effects, the one-hour, 20-minute one-act epic takes verses from 30 poems by Shaikh Mohammad to weave a narrative that addresses a range of themes, from love and humanity to leadership, courage and wisdom.

Al Faris is a knight who cares for his people and wants to ensure their safety and prosperity in a world besieged by hatred. The narrative revolves around his horseback journey to save his love, Shomous, and his role as a leader in inspiring his people to realise their aspirations and dreams.

Playing the lead roles are Lebanese actor Gassan Saliba and Emirati singer Balqees Fat’hi. Co-written by renowned Lebanese theatrical director Marwan Al Rahbani and Ghady Al Rahbani, the musical has been produced by The Brand Dubai, the innovation arm of the Government of Dubai Media Office, and has brought together Arab theatre icons, famous Arab singers and creative and technical resources from across the region and the world.

With over 800 crew, including 250 cast members from over 40 nationalities, working on the stage production between Dubai, Beirut, London, Kuala Lumpur and Kiev, Salem Belyouha, the project manager of Al Faris, said the quality stage production integrates techniques from both dramatic theatre and film production by using a state-of-the-art digital backdrop for the stage.

“The [digital] backdrop combines with the set decor, costumes and music to tell a powerful story. The costumes and decor have been designed to be unique and do not relate to any specific culture or historical age,” he said.

Belyouha said the music composition and orchestration, the innovative use of poetry in the play, which has either been rendered into music or integrated into dialogue, including choreography, makes the play a landmark production.

Most important are the messages that come through at the end of the play, he said. “The [messages] are particularly important at a time when the Arab world needs to draw deeply from its culture, values and heritage to confront the challenges facing it. At the same time, these messages are universal, and will resonate deeply with international audiences.”

This is the first time Shaikh Mohammad’s poems are being rendered into music by an international orchestra and the first theatrical production to feature extensive verses of poetry in the Emirati dialect, according to Belyouha.

Al Rahbani, director and general supervisor of the play, spoke to tabloid! during rehearsals last week shuttling between Dubai and Lebanon. He is president and CEO of Rahbani Productions, which is working with The Brand Dubai.

Al Rahbani said he researched around 150 poems to write the script, and select verses to develop a narrative with an epic flavour. The entire production took over five months.

“What makes a story epic is the range of subjects it tackles — from good and evil to hate, jealousy, vengeance and love. These things existed since prehistoric times and will never change, even if the contexts change and technologies come into play.”

The state-of-the-art technologies used in the play, he said, complement each other and are not there just for the “sake of using them.”

“There is homogeneity between the screen, which will display the videos we have filmed in Dubai, the stage platform and the characters. The unity is the innovation.”

With a production of this scale, there were challenges. The big responsibility was dealing with the poems and capturing their essence. “The poems are extremely beautiful, very musical, deep and contain lots of imagery. Each person can interpret them in their own way, so it was challenging to create the real mood for each topic and fit everything into one story,” said Al Rahbani.

He urged audiences to not miss the first three minutes of the play as they are critical to understanding the story. “The success of the play can only be determined after the play, when people leave the hall thinking about the story.”

In order to make the play accessible to diverse audiences, English subtitles will be displayed on two large monitors, Al Rahbani said. “Dubai is a multinational city and we need everybody to get the chance to watch it.”

Don’t miss it

Al Faris runs from January 6-9 at Dubai World Trade Centre, with one show daily at 6pm. Tickets, Dh195 to Dh795, are available at platinumlist.net, City Walk, Box Park and Global Village.