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The Mariinsky Ballet launches a new cultural exchange initiative while wowing audiences in Abu Dhabi.

Published: March 27, 2013 (Issue # 1752)

Abu Dhabi Festival / spt

Michel Fokine’s ‘Chopiniana’ was on the program when the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra performed at the Abu Dhabi Festival.

On March 14 and 15, the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra were basking in the sunny glow of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in more ways than one. The troupe was there for their U.A.E. premiere and to open the international portion of one of the region’s annual arts festivals of global significance.

“It was really spectacular, just beautiful,” said Hoda Ibrahim Al Khamis-Kanoo, the founder of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation and the presenter of the Abu Dhabi Festival. “We had a full house, with people wanting to come in, but now the hall is becoming too small for the Mariinsky. We have to get a bigger hall. We had a number of members of our ruling family and the royal cabinet who stayed for hours and hours and hours,” she said.

In celebration of its 10th anniversary this year, the Abu Dhabi Festival presented two performances of “Homage to Fokine,” the Mariinsky’s collection of short ballets by iconic choreographer Michel Fokine. These are the works that propelled Ballets Russes legends Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky into the consciousness of world ballet and revolutionized the staid, predictable world of classical ballet over the course of two Paris seasons in the early 1900s.  

On the program were “Schéhérazade,” “Chopiniana,” “Le Spectre de la Rose” and “The Dying Swan,” which was revived especially for the festival. 

The performances took place on the stage of the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, which is one of the world’s most spectacular and luxurious hotels.

The appearance by the Mariinsky Ballet and Orchestra also inaugurated the start of a unique, long-term strategic partnership with the festival.

Signed in 2011 between the Mariinsky Theater’s artistic director and principal conductor Valery Gergiev and Al Khamis-Kanoo, the agreement focuses on artistic cooperation, education and cross marketing.  

The partnership, which is non-committal and non-binding with no specified end date, will see the Mariinsky Ballet, Orchestra and Opera appearing at the Abu Dhabi Festival every three years and may include the co-commissioning of new work. The next performance by the Mariinsky Theater will be in 2016.

The relationship with the Mariinsky Theater deepens and extends the concerns of both Al Khamis-Kanoo and Gergiev, who are both deeply and passionately devoted to education. The Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Foundation’s commitment to raising a new generation of Emerati citizens to embark on careers in the cultural sector means that the two organizations may choose to create internships at the Mariinsky as well as other vocational projects.

To this end, in addition to the evening performances of Fokine’s ballets, the Mariinsky also performed in the mornings for students with the hope of inspiring younger generations to become involved in the arts. The students were given the opportunity to experience firsthand the artistry of what is possibly the world’s greatest ballet company.

“All this opens doors to new innovation, to a new form of art,” said Al Khamis-Kanoo, speaking to The St. Petersburg Times at the festival.

“I also see a growing cultural industry — this did not exist before — to be a stage manager, to be a lighting engineer, to have the interest to go into the cultural industry and study all of that,” said Al Khamis-Kanoo.

The Mariinsky Theater’s appearance is not the first time that Russian performers have participated in the festival.

As a festival of firsts and gateway to the U.A.E., the Abu Dhabi Festival under Al Khamis-Kanoo has seen performances by The Bolshoi Ballet and Orchestra, the Russian National Orchestra and The St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Valery Gergiev conducted a program of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev with the World Orchestra for Peace at the festival in 2011.

In addition to performances of Fokine’s ballets by the Mariinsky, this year’s festival also presented Joshua Bell and the Czech Philharmonic, a concert by Placido Domingo and Ana María Martínez, an appearance by Brazilian legend Gilberto Gil and a gala performance of “Poème Orientale” by the acclaimed Franco-Lebanese composer and poet Bechara El Khoury with bass-baritone Bryn Terfel, Russian soprano Victoria Yastrebova and the Czech Philharmonic conducted by Jiri Belohlavek.

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