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

Cirque du Soleil in Riyadh. (Arab News)
Updated 25 September 2018

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.


Spider-Man’s Marvel future in peril as Sony deal breaks down

Updated 21 August 2019

Spider-Man’s Marvel future in peril as Sony deal breaks down

  • The Marvel movies have together grossed $22 billion at the global box office
  • A key aspect of that partnership has now broken down

LOS ANGELES: Marvel’s superhero films could lose their most famous character after Sony confirmed Tuesday that talks over its deal to share Spider-Man with the Disney-owned studio have broken down.
The Marvel movies have together grossed $22 billion at the global box office, and British actor Tom Holland’s Spider-Man has become an increasingly central figure in the most lucrative franchise in film history.
But while the teen web-slinger has for decades been the crown jewel of the Marvel comic book empire on which the films are based, Sony owns the character’s movie rights.
He only began appearing in Disney-owned Marvel’s “cinematic universe” after the Hollywood giants stuck an almost-unprecedented, and still highly secretive, 2015 deal to co-produce and split profits across the films.
A key aspect of that partnership has now broken down.
Sony confirmed that Marvel Studios boss Kevin Feige — widely credited with the phenomenal boom in comic book movies of the past decade — will no longer produce Spider-Man films, with a spokesman adding the studio was “disappointed.”
“We hope this might change in the future, but understand that the many new responsibilities that Disney has given him... do not allow time for him to work on IP (intellectual property) they do not own,” the Sony spokesman said in a statement sent to AFP.
The separation makes it “almost certain” that the character Spider-Man will be absent from crossover appearances in future Marvel films, according to Hollywood Reporter journalist Graeme McMillan.
Multiple Hollywood media outlets reported earlier Tuesday that Disney and Sony had failed to agree on financial terms for future Spider-Man films.
According to Deadline, which broke the news, Disney had wanted to significantly increase its financial stake in new Spider-Man movies, while Sony refused to alter existing terms.
Sony said the reports “mischaracterized recent discussions,” but thanked Feige for “the path he has helped put us on, which we will continue.”
In financial terms, Spider-Man is one of the most successful superheroes in movie history.
Holland’s iteration of Spider-Man has delivered box office gold — he has appeared in a total of five Marvel Studios and Sony films since the collaboration deal, which collectively grossed almost $8 billion worldwide.
These included Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the highest-grossing movie of all time.
At Comic-Con last month, Marvel Studios set out a timeline of films and television shows scheduled for the next two years including new outings for popular characters Thor, Black Widow, Doctor Strange and Loki — but none featuring Spider-Man.
Feige is also expected to be busy overseeing new Marvel franchises acquired by Disney in its purchase of 21st Century Fox, which include the popular “X-Men.”
Sony last year produced an Oscar-winning Spider-Man animation separate from Marvel Studios’ domain, as well as a standalone film centered on popular Spider-Man villain Venom.
Disney did not immediately respond to request for comment.