Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

Cirque du Soleil in Riyadh. (Arab News)
Updated 25 September 2018
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Cirque du Soleil in Saudi Arabia: The perfect tribute to a rich culture

  • Cirque du Soleil created a spectacular show in Riyadh
  • They paid tribute to Saudi culture and heritage

RIYADH: The circus — a place that is almost synonymous with joy and delight. Since time immemorial, circuses have been places of celebration and glee, and few as much as the premier name in the industry: Cirque du Soleil.

The show has had a devoted fan in me since 2006, when I attended a performance of their production “Quidam” and my definition of the word “circus” was turned upside-down. Their unique approach to art, performance, costumes and music has secured their status as a household name and a benchmark for all other circus shows to be measured against.

On Sunday night, Saudi Arabia’s National Day, the circus brought their incredible acrobatics to Riyadh’s King Fahad Stadium and it turned out to be a night to remember.



Prior to the event, Cirque’s Vice President of Creation Daniel Fortin offered little in the way of spoilers but hinted that we would see something the likes of which we never had before. With the promises of exclusive new acts, music, costumes and stage tricks piquing my excitement, I joined a throng of green-and white-clad spectators flooding the stadium. Performing to a sold-out crowd, the show kicked off at exactly 8.30 p.m. and the magic truly began.

Barely five minutes into the show, something stole over me as I settled into the rhythm of the music, something I saw flickering over the faces of those in the crowd around me: Recognition. We were seeing ourselves, our identity, echoed back at us, but with a twist. We saw ourselves through someone else’s eyes — someone respectful and admiring.



As a Saudi youth today, it has become an unfortunately common occurrence to face negativity from various outsiders, born of ignorance or fear. It has become dreary and repetitive to have to continually defend my people and my culture from those who have no wish to understand us.

But at this show? I saw my country once more through the eyes of an outsider, but this time, it was different. I saw my culture and my heritage lauded, celebrated, delicately fused with that tangible Cirque du Soleil flair. The attention to detail was careful, almost loving, but also daring and outlandish. It was a glorious fusion of classic Saudi aesthetics with the ethereal, bizarre beauty of Cirque du Soleil.


The symbolism was not always obvious, sometimes it was subtle, constrained to the beat of a drum or hidden in a snatch of song. Other times, it was blatant and bold, in the sloping hump of an elegantly clumsy camel costume, or the billowing of the Bedouin Big Top in the gentle breeze. And yet, unmistakeably, I felt the Saudi influences in every note of the performance. It felt like an homage, and yet it did nothing to diminish its own identity. It remained unquestionably a Cirque du Soleil performance, only below the usual circus frippery, there was a ribbon of something else that lay coiled beneath the surface. Something bright, vibrant green. Saudi green.

The spectacle rounded off with an astonishing display of fireworks, so plentiful that for a moment, the sky glowed bright as day. To me, each one felt like a promise fulfilled. A dream achieved. A miracle witnessed. Here, on my own home soil, it was the perfect tribute to a rich and vivid culture.


Lebanese ‘Capernaum’ shortlisted for an Oscar

Updated 18 December 2018
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Lebanese ‘Capernaum’ shortlisted for an Oscar

DUBAI: Director Nadine Labaki’s film “Capernaum” has been shortlisted for the Best Foreign Film Oscar, she took to Instagram to announce on Monday.
“What an incredible moment in our film’s journey and a major milestone for Lebanese and Arab cinema... After years of research, tears and sweat, long production hours and sleepless nights, our film has been recognized on this year’s Foreign Language #Oscar shortlist among eight other films from a selection that exceeded 80 submissions from all around the world. We couldn’t be prouder,” she wrote on Instagram.

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#Capharnaum is SHORTLISTED for an #Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film! What an incredible moment in our film’s journey and a major milestone for Lebanese and Arab cinema. After years of research, tears and sweat, long production hours and sleepless nights, our film has been recognized on this year’s Foreign Language #Oscar shortlist among 8 other films from a selection that exceeded 80 submissions from all around the world. We couldn’t be prouder. Thank you @TheAcademy for this immense honor. Thank you @SonyClassics for bringing the film to American audiences and voters. Thank you to each and every member of our cast and crew. And thank you to every audience member who went to see the film at film festivals and in cinemas. #Oscars2019 #Capharnaum

A post shared by Nadine Labaki (@nadinelabaki) on

The other foreign films that “Capernaum” is up against include German “Never Look Away,” Japanese “Shoplifters,” Kazakh “Ayka,” Colombian “Birds of Passage,” Danish “The Guilty, ”Mexican “Roma”, Polish “Cold War” and South Korean “Burning.”