Lifting the Veil

By Trendle, Giles | The Middle East, July 1992 | Go to article overview
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Lifting the Veil

Trendle, Giles, The Middle East

Caracalla, one of the best known dance companies in the Middle East, will soon be visiting London as part of an international tour. Giles Trendle met up with the founder and namesake of the company in a theatre in Beirut.

It was while watching the international dance troupes at the annual Baalbek music and dance festival in Lebanon that the young Abdul Halim Caracalla first decided he wanted to dedicate himself to the art of dance. "Seeing those bodies flying about in the night under the temples of Baalbek attracted me to dance," recalls Caracalla. Thirty-five years later, with his own dance troupe which is widely regarded as the best in the Middle East, Caracalla has undoutedly succeeded in achieving his teenage dream.

The goal that the budding Lebanese Shiite choreographer from Baalbek set himself was far from easy. When Caracalla first set up his dance company over 20 years ago three was little public appreciation for the art of dance in Lebanon. Caracalla recalls that the maximum run of his early wroks was three nights. Today, Caracalla's latest work is coming to the end of a six month run in Beirut which has seen full houses every night and, once over, the Caracalla dance company will embark upon an international tour taking in London, Paris and New York.

The success of Caracalla has been founded upon his unique blend of Arab, classical and modern dance. Caracalla established his own dance company in Beirut in 1968 with the aim of marrying oriental dance with modern Western techniques that he had learnt at the London School of Contemporary Dance in the mid-sixties as well as previous studies in Paris and New York.

Caracalla's first big success in the West came in 1977 with his third production, entitled "Black Tents", a dance-theatre about two warring Bedouin tribes which decide to forge peace by marrying off the respective son and daughter of each tribal chief.

The company, on part of a tour in the Arab world, was performing in Amman where King Hussein attended one of the shows and was, explains Caracalla, so delighted by the show that he strongly encouraged the Lebanese choreographer to tour Europe and the United States, believing that such a colorful expression of Arab culture should be seen in the West.

With a royal recommendation the theatre doors of Europe and the US were opened to the Caracalla dance troupe which, since then, has performed repeatedly in the West over the years -- in fact Caracalla calls the Sadlers Wells theatre in London his "second home" -- as well as elsewhere in the world, taking in a total of 30 different countries since its international debut in 1972.

Caracalla's latest production, entitled "An Oriental Night's Dream," which took him three years to prepare, is a dance adaptation of William Shakespeare's play "Midsummer Nights Dream". The famous sixteenth-century English bard is something of an idol for Caracalla. "Black Tent's was inspired by Shakespeare's story of "Romeo and Juliet", while another of Caracalla's past dance-theatres was an adaptation of "The Taming of the Shrew".

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