Burkini about inclusion not division

MESSAGE OF PEACE: Models clad in burkini swimsuits pose for photos with Australian-Lebanese designer Aheda Zanetti, center, in western Sydney on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 19 August 2016
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Burkini about inclusion not division

SYDNEY: The burkini swimsuit has sparked huge controversy in France, but in Australia where beach culture is a national obsession, it’s seen as a symbol of inclusion, says its designer Aheda Zanetti.

The light-weight, quick-drying two-piece swimsuit which covers the body and hair has been banned from French beaches by several mayors in recent weeks following deadly attacks linked to radicals.
While Australia is grappling with a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment after a series of assaults by radicalized youth, the burqini has not attracted strong criticism in a country where people regularly cover up at beaches to protect their skin from the harsh sunshine.
The swimsuit is rather seen as allowing more people to participate in the outdoor lifestyle Australians celebrate as part of their national culture.
When Australian-Lebanese Zanetti, 48, was designing the outfit on the lounge-room floor of her home in the multicultural southwestern Sydney suburb of Bankstown more than a decade ago, her first thoughts were about how it could help girls play sports while respecting their faith as Muslims.
“Australia has a lifestyle of beach, surf and sun and sporting activities and I felt that when I was growing up I missed out on a lot of the activities,” Zanetti told AFP, adding that the idea stemmed from watching her niece play netball.
“I just didn’t want anyone to miss out on any sporting activities like we all did because of our modesty restrictions.”
Zanetti — who was a housewife with three young children at the time — opened her first shop in Sydney in 2005. Since then, she has sold some 700,000 suits, with the multi-million-dollar business also exporting to wholesalers in countries such as Bahrain, Britain, South Africa and Switzerland.
The burkini came to national prominence after the Cronulla riots in Sydney in December 2005, when a drunken white mob attacked Arab-Australians in a bid to “reclaim the beach” after two lifesavers — viewed as national icons — were beaten, and retaliatory attacks spread.
The violence shocked Australians and sparked efforts by Surf Life Saving Australia to recruit Muslim lifeguards to patrol beaches.
They also commissioned Zanetti to create a burkini in their iconic red and yellow colors.
For Siham Karra-Hassan, the burkini was her opportunity to return to the swimming pool, two decades after she was chased out of the water by a lifeguard for wearing cotton clothes.
“When the burkini came out, things changed very quickly,” the mother-of-six told AFP, adding that her 25-year-old daughter was a burkini-wearing swimming instructor.


After conquering Broadway, ‘Hamilton’ eyes global tour

Updated 16 June 2019
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After conquering Broadway, ‘Hamilton’ eyes global tour

  • Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show charts Caribbean-born Hamilton who rises through his smarts and determination to become a key military aide to George
  • The push for more overseas performances comes as “Hamilton” mania remains as strong as ever in its home market

NEW YORK: After triumphing on Broadway, the lower 48 states and London’s West End, “Hamilton” is eyeing its first non-English production as well as tours throughout Europe and Asia.
The much-decorated musical, currently being staged nightly in London and New York as well as four other US cities, last month announced plans to launch in Sydney in early 2021 in a production expected to tour Australia before going to Asia, its producer said in an interview.
The “Hamilton” team is also working with a German hip-hop artist and playwright to develop a German-language version of the work.
The show, which is performed by a mostly non-white cast and mixes pulsating rap numbers with ballads and traditional musical numbers, has been credited with invigorating Broadway, thrilling audiences of all ages and across the political spectrum.
Producer Jeffrey Seller told AFP he sees a lot of international interest in the show. Australians frequently stream its soundtrack, Germany has long been receptive to American musicals and a Mexico City show, perhaps in Spanish, is also a possibility.
“My hope is that our story is resonant to people all over the world as a story of revolution, as a story of ambition, as a story of self-realization,” said Seller, who has been called the “CEO of Hamilton Inc.”
“I think Alexander Hamilton’s journey is universal.”
The push for more overseas performances comes as “Hamilton” mania remains as strong as ever in its home market.
Created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show charts Caribbean-born Hamilton — introduced as “a bastard, orphan son of a whore” — who rises through his smarts and determination to become a key military aide to George Washington during the American Revolution and later the architect of the US financial system in the republic’s early days.
Hamilton was killed in a duel in 1804 by Aaron Burr, a foil throughout the show and the character who sings “The Room Where It Happens,” a jazzy show-stopper about political horse-trading.
Nearly four years after its Broadway debut, the show completely sold out during the just-ended 2018-9 season, garnering almost $165 million, or nine percent of Broadway’s total in a record-setting season.
Business is also brisk for three national touring companies, which typically perform three- and four-week stints in American cities of varying size.
The “Angelica” touring company — named for Hamilton’s sister-in-law in the musical — made its Louisville premiere earlier this month at the Kentucky Center. The venue seats 2,400, about 1,100 more seats than the musical’s Broadway home at the Richard Rodgers Theater.
Anticipation for the show boosted subscriptions for touring Broadway shows in Louisville this season by nearly 20 percent, said Leslie Broecker, Midwest president for Broadway Across America, who calls the show a “catalyst” in attracting new audiences.
Shannon Steen, a University of California professor specializing in performance studies and race theory, attributes the show’s domestic success to Miranda’s skill at blending musical genres while appealing to diverse political constituencies.
The show “confirms this idea that America can serve as a city on a hill for global democracy,” a theme that resonates with conservatives, Steen said.
At the same time, signature lines such as “immigrants get the job done” have emerged as applause points for critics of US President Donald Trump’s harsh immigration policies, which parallel similar debates in other markets.
The show’s themes about immigration “will likely not resonate in the same way (as in the US), but it will be interesting to see how those things are taken up by audiences in other countries,” Steen said.
International investments will be tailored by market. Seller expects an English-language version of “Hamilton” to play in Paris perhaps for an eight- or 10-week run as part of a European tour around 2022-23.
He said the French have not shown much hunger for past American musicals, but that this show — which features a prominent French character in the Marquis de Lafayette — could spawn a French-language version if it sells well.
But Germany has for years been a robust market for US musicals, including “Wicked” and “Lion King,” and “they have the population to support it for a long run,” Seller said.
Stephan Jaekel, a spokesman for Stage Entertainment in Germany, which has been overseeing auditions for “Hamilton,” said the aim is to open in the fall of 2020 in Hamburg, but that a final deal has yet to be signed.
“We much look forward to presenting it to German audiences and hope to be able to start ticket sales soon,” Jaekel said in an email.
Seller hopes to announce the show in the coming months.