Water in the Desert

Following the success of Beautiful World in late 2016, we are honoured to be working with the Ministry of Tolerance on a second opera project with British Director, Karen Gillingham and her world class creative team – including two professional opera singers.

The new production, ‘Water in the Desert: A Zayed Legacy’ is presented in partnership with The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. 

Commemorating the Year of Zayed, it will be an unforgettable celebration of his remarkable environmental legacy and vision for the greening of the desert.

The creative team have been working with over 80 school children to devise, create, rehearse and perform an original opera on 25th and 26th October 2018. The performances will held in The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi’s flagship venue, The Red Theater.

The project is in two parts – an initial devising period which was held in June, followed by rehearsals, staging and performance which are underway.

Director Karen Gillingham oversees devising

A long weekend of devising saw students work with the creative team to develop and evolve the storyline, music, choreography and design. Much of the power of this type of project comes from the fact that the young people craft the content. The ideas come from them and are then taken by the professional composer and librettist and finalised into a piece of contemporary opera.

The students involved are aged 11 and above and come largely from Cranleigh. However, we are delighted to have been able to include a number of talented dancers from BISAD and Brighton College Abu Dhabi, who joined us for the devising and are now firmly embedded as full members of the team.

Director Karen Gillingham had this to say after the devising process came to a close: “The extraordinary insight, passion and dynamism of the students has been incredibly inspiring. We feel privileged to work with them and are leaving full of fresh ideas that have come directly from them.”

This process was informed and inspired with help from Lest We Forget, an innovative archival initiative that explores Emirati vernacular tangible and intangible culture through memory, reflection, research and creative expression. Lest We Forget’s work considers how and why essential indigenous traditions continue to be relevant to contemporary Emirati culture and identity. Operating with support from the Salama bint Hamdan Al Nahyan Foundation, Lest We Forget is a community-based initiative led by Creative Director, Dr Michele Bambling.

We also welcomed environmental expert, Tatiana Antonelli Abella, Founder & Managing Director of Goumbook, a leading Social Enterprise dedicated to raising awareness among the local community on sustainability and green living across the UAE and the Gulf region. Goumbook works to promote positive environmental action through active participation in specific projects, campaigns and activities. Its current initiatives include Give a Ghaf Tree Planting Programme, Drop It – Rethink Plastic and Drop It Youth.

The opera embraces music, drama, film, movement and design and the aim is that local Emirati musicians will also join the project.


  • To support and reinforce key messaging behind the Year of Zayed
  • To inspire and develop children across several curriculum areas through performance and visual arts
  • To support the evolution and development of UAE education
  • To celebrate UAE heritage and culture in an innovative and memorable manner that can be shared with the wider community

Key Values

  • Tolerance and Collaboration
  • Determination and Work Ethic
  • Sustainability and Collective Responsibility
  • Deep Respect for UAE Heritage and Culture

Devising the Story

  • Based on Sheikh Zayed’s vision for a green desert, his belief that water was the UAE’s most valuable resource as well as the environmental and conservation programmes he led and inspired.
  • Explore the fact that change and progress comes only from dedication, collaboration and hard work
  • Emphasise the role and responsibility of the UAE’s blended current and future generations to continue to work together to treasure, protect and give back to our shared home.
  • Work with experts in environmental issues and social history to join the devising process crossing the curriculum


Cranleigh Abu Dhabi students studying Dance, Drama, Music, Art and Design Technology, as well as those who are active members of performing and creative arts co-curricular programmes, have been selected and invited to take part in this project. In addition to this, dancers from a number of other Abu Dhabi schools were invited to audition and we are delighted to be welcoming four dance students from Brighton College Abu Dhabi and four from the British International School Abu Dhabi (BISAD).

Further, there will be a number of cross-curricular projects running during the school day towards the end of June to inspire, inform and engage as many pupils as possible in the powerful themes behind this project.

  • Core company: 40 students aged 13+
  • Primary element: Approximately 20 pupils aged 5 to 6 years
  • Dance Company: 30 students aged 13+
  • Designers: 10 students 

Creative Team