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.


Marie Fredriksson of Swedish pop duo Roxette dies at 61

Updated 10 December 2019

Marie Fredriksson of Swedish pop duo Roxette dies at 61

  • Per Gessle: You were an outstanding musician, a master of the voice, an amazing performer
  • Fredriksson formed Roxette with Per Gessle in 1986, and in 1989, the pair had their international breakthrough with The Look

STOCKHOLM: Marie Fredriksson, the female half of the Swedish pop duo Roxette, has died at age 61, her management agency said Tuesday.
Fredriksson formed Roxette with Per Gessle in 1986. The two released their first album the same year and went on to achieve international success in the late 1980s and 1990s with hits including “The Look” and “It Must Have Been Love.”
The Dimberg Jernberg agency said Fredriksson died Monday “of the consequences of a long illness.”
It “is with great sorrow that we must inform you that one of greatest and most-loved artists is gone,” the firm said.
On his Facebook profile, Gessle wrote: “You were an outstanding musician, a master of the voice, an amazing performer.”
“I’m proud, honored and happy to have been able to share so much of your time, talent, warmth, generosity and your sense of humor,” he wrote in English, adding “Things will never be the same.”
Fredriksson was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2002. She underwent aggressive treatment that took its toll but ultimately was successful, her management agency said. However, she was left blind in one eye, with limited hearing and mobility, and was unable to read or write. She was also unable to speak for a considerable period of time after her treatment. Over the years she was able to make a gradual return to the world stage
Fredriksson was born in southern Sweden on May 30, 1958, and had her artistic breakthrough in 1984 in Sweden. Two years later, she formed the duo Roxette with Gessle, and in 1989, the pair had their international breakthrough with “The Look.”
They achieved international success with their albums “Look Sharp!” in 1988 and “Joyride” in 1991, and had six top two hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The pair sold 80 million records worldwide and embarked on world tours.
They were Sweden’s best-known band since ABBA in the 1970s and 1980s, and in 2003, Sweden’s Carl Gustaf XVI awarded the duo a royal award. Fredriksson made her first public appearance after her brain tumor operation to receive the honor with Gessle.
Fredriksson is survived by her husband, Mikael Bolyos, and their two children, Josefin and Oscar.