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.


Saudi streamers seek gaming glory during COVID-19 crisis

Twitch’s top channels during April included Saudi Arabia’s ixxYjYxxi, which recorded 210,257 views in 44 hours of streaming during the month. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 55 min 18 sec ago

Saudi streamers seek gaming glory during COVID-19 crisis

  • Saudi streamers in particular have also enjoyed great success on Twitch

RIYADH: As the Arab world emerges from lockdown, the data obtained from the period of forced confinement shows what the region’s gaming community has been up to, most notably on one streaming website that has gamers in the region “doing the Twitch.”
The coronavirus lockdown in the Middle East sparked a significant increase in the platform’s Arabic-language content, with Arabic streams more than doubling during March and April.
Twitch allows users to broadcast their gameplay live to fans around the world, and the website announced a total of 62,582 active streams as countries across the region followed strict social distancing rules.
Saudi streamers in particular have also enjoyed great success on Twitch. The platform’s top channels during April included Saudi Arabia’s ixxYjYxxi, which recorded 210,257 views in 44 hours of streaming during the month, and RakanooLive, with more than 561,000 hours of watch time.
Whether it is for attention, to show off their skills or even as a way to make money, Saudi streamers spoke to Arab News about why they choose to broadcast their gameplay, and why viewers find it appealing.
Fahad Alshiha, a member of Saudi gaming news website TrueGaming, also streams on an independent Twitch channel where he has garnered over 16,000 views.
He has been streaming for over 5 years as a way to share his gaming skills while being able to interact with his viewers.
“Streaming is popular because viewers find it entertaining,” he told Arab News. “It’s like watching a famous TV show, where people tune in to see the new episode. It’s popular with the streamers themselves because they get attention, and sometimes even money. But I think the majority are doing it to just have fun.”
Erum Alnafjan, a financial collector, said that she enjoyed watching streamers for a variety of reasons, playing games she was familiar with and games she was not.
“Some games I wouldn’t play myself, but I’m interested enough to see what they’re about,” she told Arab News. “Some streamers make it entertaining. And sometimes I watch games I’ve already played just to see how they would go about it.”
Ahmad   Suliman, a  senior   manager and a “father of three gamers,” enjoyed watching streams, but had specific criteria regarding what sort of streams he would or would not watch.

It’s like watching a famous TV show, where people tune in to see the new episode.

Fahd Alshiha

“The only two values I watch streams for are the funny reactions, such as rage or trash talking, or information about the gaming world and industry. If they don’t engage me in the first 10 to 15 minutes, it’ll be a hard pass,” he told Arab News.
However, the surge in streamer popularity is unlikely to remain sustainable, as people begin to move forward post-lockdown and many beginner streamers realize that streaming is not quite for them.
Fajr Bantan, a former gaming streamer, said that he stopped streaming partly due to real-life reasons and also because it was not what he thought it would be.
“To be honest, I thought it was just about gaming and showing my skills, but it appears it is more than that,” he told Arab News. “You have to engage with your audience and entertain them, whether it’s by chatting, doing their challenges, responding to their requests, and so on.”
It is undeniable that Arabic-language streams have made a mark on the Twitch ecosystem, and official statistics from Twitch back that up. According to Twitch, the number of streams in Arabic increased by 95.3 percent in March — compared to numbers from the previous year using a year-over-year analysis — and 109.9 percent in April.
The figures also pinpoint the surge’s hotspots as the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
The MENA region has the world’s most active gaming community and, at 25 percent year-on-year growth, the fastest growing online gaming population in the world.
A recent white paper from internet company Tencent, creators of one of the region’s most popular mobile games PUBG Mobile, the MENA gaming market will be worth some $6 billion by 2021, up from $4.8 billion in 2019.
But, as the demand for Arabic content on Twitch grows, Arab streamers hope that the platform will be just as willing to accommodate their feedback as they did their language.
Alshiha said there was a huge Arabic Twitch community, but Twitch needed to work on meeting their needs in order to keep them engaged, such as easing some of the restrictions on their Twitch Partner program, which allows streamers to monetize their content, among other benefits.
“They need to relax some of their criteria in order to make their ‘partner’ program more accessible. We would also love if Twitch opened dedicated servers in the region to accommodate the influx of streamers,” he said.