Sheherazade comes to life as Sharjah celebrates being named World Book Capital

  • World
  • Thursday, 25 Apr 2019

A scene from the production of 1001 Nights: The Final Chapter. - Pictures courtesy of Al Majaz Amphiteatre

SHARJAH: The United Arab Emirates city of Sharjah pays a special tribute to one of the most legendary characters in literature, Sheherazade, as it celebrates its crowning as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) World Book Capital 2019. 

The enchanting storyteller lives on in "1001 Nights: The Last Chapter", a special theatre production put together as the crowning glory of the Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 grand opening ceremony held at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre on Tuesday night (April 23).

The grand show, which told the story of an ailing Sheherazade's mission for her three children, was put together by 537 artistes from 25 countries and a 51-piece orchestra led by Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra principal conductor Harout Fazlian.

A scene from the production of 1001 Nights: The Last Chapter.
Based on the region’s most popular collection of classic folktales, "One Thousand and One Nights", the show, which will run once daily until Saturday (April 27), officially inaugurates year-long celebrations of Sharjah as Unesco award's 19th title holder.

On its world premiere on Tuesday night (April 23), the live show blended stunning acrobatics, breathtaking aerial stunts, a specially choreographed equestrian sequence and synchronised dances with a powerful storyline and live music.

The show, touted to be the largest of its kind in the region, was produced by Al Majaz Amphitheatre in partnership with Multiple International, 7 Fingers and Artists in Motion.

Creation director and Multiple International chief creative director Phillippe Skaff said the idea to bring Sheherazade on stage to tell "one last story" came from Sheikha Bodour Sultan Al Qasimi, daughter of the Sharjah Ruler, who wanted to create a spectacular show inspired by the epic collection of folk tales.

"It was no small feat. So many shows have covered this theme. It has been treated 1001 times. We had to approach it in a fresh way, both in form and in content," he said in an interview here Tuesday (April 23).

Skaff said while there were multiple variations of the "One Thousand and One Nights", Sheherazade, who is the narrator of the tales, has always been the constant.

Skaff said he did not want the "shallow, Hollywood interpretation of the show" where the characters were depicted in a "foolish" or comical way such as the genie in Disney's Aladdin.

"Every story in it is deep, has meaning and is set in a complex cultural set-up.

"Sheherazade is the first feminist but in the movies, she was depicted as just a beautiful woman. She is not just that, she was very intelligent.

"She saved her own life night after night and by telling her stories, she managed to change the King and spare her life," he said, adding that the show was born after nine months of labour.

Skaff said he knew he needed a theatrical, dancing and acrobatic troupe who are at the best in their discipline to perform with a philharmonic orchestra playing a mix of live classical, Arabic and world music.

The international artistes chosen to perform in the show had extensive experience of performing in iconic entertainment shows including Cirque du Soleil Canada and Broadway.

The cast of performers included Slovenian Silvia Vrskova, who had been part of Celine Dion and Gloria Estefan's dancing teams, French dancer Kyra Jean Green, circus arts expert Ricardo Castaneyra, choreographer Alexandre Hill, ballet dancer Guillaume Michaud and Japanese aerial silks and straps performer Mizuki Shinagawa.

Skaff said the idea to make the show a continuation of the "One Thousand and One Nights" stories also stemmed from the fact that the epic was premised on a never-ending, open field of imagination.

"The stories are a collection of different cultures around the world and are not like other stories that have a fixed set of characters.

"The beauty of the epic is that you can believe anything. It's an open field of imagination," said Skaff.

The show, which featured performers from Mexico, France, Slovenia, Belarus, Canada and Japan among others, was held at the Al Majaz Amphitheatre here, the first of its kind Roman-coliseum style open-air theatre in the Arabian Peninsula.

The venue can accommodate 3,000 people and the dialogues of the epic production are available in Arabic, English and French for the audience via headphones.

Sharjah's year as Unesco's World Book Capital 2019 runs from Tuesday (April 23) until April 22 next year under the theme "Open Books, Open Minds", and will feature a colourful line-up of year-long programmes in celebration of the title.

Other than the "1001 Nights: The Last Chapter", Sharjah will host book-themed activities such as libraries on the beach, book fairs and exhibitions, festivals of desert theatre, storytelling, poetry and Islamic arts as well as a year-round programme on children's literature.

Before Sharjah, Athens in Greece held the title for a year in 2018 while Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur, is slated to hold the World Book Capital title next year, in the 20th year of the award.


A scene from the production of 1001 Nights: The Last Chapter.

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