The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi hosts the world premiere of Al Raheel | Departure, a contemporary theater performance from the UAE

The piece is co-commissioned by The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi and the Cultural Foundation in Abu Dhabi

The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi hosts the world premiere of Al Raheel | Departure, a contemporary theater performance from the UAE
  • Al Raheel | Departure is a dual-language performance created by Emirati writer, NYUAD student Class of 2020 Reem Almenhali and American director and Associate Arts Professor of Theater at NYUAD Joanna Settle
  • The performance, in Arabic and English, explores themes of innocence, womanhood, and grief, and features an all-woman Emirati cast

Abu Dhabi: The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) will host the world premiere of Al Raheel |Departure, a contemporary theater performance created by Emirati writer, Reem AlMenhali and American director Joanna Settle.

Co-commissioned by The Arts Center at NYUAD and the Cultural Foundation, Al Raheel |Departure takes place on January 24 and 25 at The Black Box in The Arts Center.

The production explores innocence, womanhood, and grief, reflecting on a body that stays while a world changes. Performed in Arabic and English, audiences for Al Raheel | Departure will experience an intimate journey that explores the bi-cultural reality of contemporary young Emirati women.

Al Raheel |Departure weaves poetry in Arabic and English, as images are projected alongside fluid movements. The performance has been collaboratively developed from a series of poems written by Almenhali, detailing the persistent development of women from childhood to womanhood and old age.  The collaboration between writer and director was born out of a directing class assignment when Almenhali was a student in Settle’s class at NYU Abu Dhabi.

The piece features an all-female cast, with NYUAD’s Class of 2020 student Reem Almenhali, majoring in Theater and Psychology; Class of 2021 Maitha AlSuwaidi student, majoring in Political Science; and Class of 2021 student Maryam Khalifa Alshehhi, majoring in Political Science; as well as Zayed University’s Class of 2020 Sara Rasheed, majoring in Psychology.

Executive Artistic Director of The Arts Center at NYUAD Bill Bragin said, “In the spirit of 2020’s theme, Forward to the Next 50, Al Raheel | Departure represents an investment in developing exciting young Emirati talent, bringing a new theatrical voice and an all Emirati female cast of newcomers to the world. Voices from the UAE are heard too rarely on international theater stages. We’re thrilled to collaborate with Cultural Foundation to support the first production of a new work by a young Emirati writer, Reem Almenhali, developed with an award-winning American director Joanna Settle, both associated with NYUAD, as part of The Arts Center fifth anniversary season.  We are eager to support a work that brings to the theater the perspective of Emirati women, who live in a world that toggles between English and Arabic, and who navigate expectations and opportunities in the dynamic and quickly changing world of the United Arab Emirates.”

NYUAD’s Class of 2020 student Reem Almenhali, said, “What’s beautiful about making a piece on what influences the creation of your identity, is that it prompts you to look for insights and nuances in what you think is too familiar. It turns home into a place to explore and the outside world into a place to inspect and find the relatable in. I believe it is important to make local work that integrates the rapid development of this country into our growth narratives. Al Raheel addresses the multilingual or bilingual nature of this place in a way that shows how the duality of languages expands the possibilities for meaning. Working with a cast of three promising Emirati young women makes me optimistic about the future of the theater in the UAE, seeing how eager they are to perform also reminds me of the importance of continuing to make work that features such talents.

The Director of the performance and Associate Arts Professor of Theater at NYUAD Joanna Settle commented, “Maybe the UAE is itself an ongoing action of social practice art? With a Minister of Happiness and cities laid out to spark the imagination, with priorities on both holding the treasured past and lassoing the future, perhaps those of us who live here are participants in the world’s largest scale art installation, where the form and content of the work evolves perpetually and the living is the artwork.  These questions of how nationhood is created and recreated have never been so present for me in a creative process. The textures of personal growth embedded in a globalizing world directly translate to be the textures of the performance world, the light, the objects in the artwork. The Emirati women in their teens and 20’s whom I’ve come to know in Abu Dhabi - in this cast and in my classroom - are on the brink of inheriting a history woven into them in ways far deeper than our English word “respect” can capture. Simultaneously, they race to personally create the future.  This performance collects and collides tangibles and intangibles to explore the interior life of this extraordinary generation of women.”

For more information on the performance, please click here.

The Arts Center at NYUAD is a performing arts center that presents distinguished professional artists from around the world alongside student, faculty, and community productions.

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About The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi

Presenting music, theater, dance, film and interdisciplinary performances that defy definition, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi is a performing arts center that presents distinguished professional artists from around the world alongside student, faculty, and community productions. The Arts Center draws on the resources of NYUAD to create a dynamic space for research, investigation, and the active pursuit of knowledge and wisdom for audiences as well as visiting artists. The Arts Center is proudly supported by Mubadala, ADCB, and Swyp as lead sponsors and GAC as sustainer sponsor.

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and science campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly-selective liberal arts, engineering and science curriculum with a world center for advanced research and scholarship enabling its students to succeed in an increasingly interdependent world and advance cooperation and progress on humanity’s shared challenges. NYU Abu Dhabi’s high-achieving students have come from more than 115 nations and speak over 115 languages. Together, NYU's campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, and Shanghai form the backbone of a unique global university, giving faculty and students opportunities to experience varied learning environments and immersion in other cultures at one or more of the numerous study-abroad sites NYU maintains on six continents.

About the Cultural Foundation

Opened in 1981 under the directives of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Cultural Foundation was the United Arab Emirates’ first multi-purpose community centre, a public institution with a mandate to foster and nurture cultural consciousness for all citizens of the recently unified UAE. Placed next to the historic Qasr al Hosn, this building fundamentally represented a new outlook on the role of culture in the modern UAE, with the introduction of the first national library, a theatre and a multi-purpose exhibition hall. Between 2009 and 2018, the Cultural Foundation underwent extensive conservation measures including repairs, rehabilitation and some adaptive reuse. Its much-anticipated reopening took place in December 2018.

The Cultural Foundation presents a cutting-edge visual arts programme of exhibitions, workshops and events. It also showcases a world-class, contemporary and home-grown performing arts programme in its newly renovated 900 seat theatre. It has transformed its library to become the Abu Dhabi Children’s Library. The state-of-art facility presents innovative hands-on learning programmes for children and families.

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