An Extraordinary Project

HE Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahyan arrives for the World Premiere of ‘Water in the Desert: A Zayed Legacy’ at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. Photo courtesy of Waleed Shah

After many months of planning, devising and an intense period of rehearsals, our opera “Water in the Desert: A Zayed Legacy” surprised and delighted audiences when it was performed at The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi on 25th and 26th October 2018.

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nayhan, Minister of Tolerance, attended the Premiere and following a standing ovation, he joined the cast and creative team on stage to congratulate everyone on an exceptional performance. 

His words written for the Programme capture his personal support of the opera: 

“Every once in a while a project comes along that has special meaning. Water in the Desert: A Zayed Legacy is one such project.

Created specifically to celebrate the Year of Zayed, this exciting new piece harnesses the power of modern opera to ignite community engagement and connect people through a shared experience.

The storyline and dramatic concepts for Water in the Desert were devised by a group of 80 students under the guidance of a team of world-class creative opera professionals.

Taking inspiration from the remarkable life and vision of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE, the children explored the environmental lessons of the past and present, in order to understand their role as custodians of the future. The result is a vivid story of tolerance, sustainability and collective responsibility, told through the emotion of music, drama, film and dance.

By bringing young people of diverse ages and backgrounds together and empowering them to reflect and respond to an important theme, an original piece of operatic theatre has been created which carries important, contemporary messaging that we should all take notice of and act upon.

This youth opera – the first ever to have been devised in the UAE – reflects the core values of tolerance, coexistence, progression and environmentalism that the UAE was built on. The performances are set to deliver a moving and impactful live experience that stays with the audience well into the future.”

His Excellency Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nayhan, Minister of Tolerance. October 2018

The story of this project has been well documented and its final incarnation is beautifully captured in these images, shot by photographer Waleed Shah. 

As we reflect on the success of the performances, it is important to remember the broader educational impact of a project like this. While the opera itself involved just over 80 pupils, the cross-curricular platform it created engaged over 800 students – over three quarters of the school. Pupils in Year 2 and above engaged in the key themes inherent in Water in the Desert: A Zayed Legacy. In June, teachers took the themes of sustainability, heritage and identity and built a series of challenges designed to stretch and stimulate thinking beyond normal academic lessons.

With support from the opera devising partners, children worked in teams to respond to their respective briefs. Tasks were as diverse as building a proposal for eco-tourism in the mangroves; making water gratitude cards; creating radio advertisements on water conservation; designing sustainable architecture; researching and modernising the Falaj system; exploring personal identity, and understanding how to document cultural memory.