East meets West in Innovative School Opera and Arts Project


narjesAbu Dhabi: In a celebration of Eastern and Western cultures and coinciding with Abu Dhabi Art season, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi is embarking on an ambitious two-part performing and arts project inspired by a poem written by the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (may God have mercy upon him) called Beautiful World.

The unique production will bring together a professional creative team of four, two opera singers, a talented Emirati artist and over 80 Cranleigh Abu Dhabi students and members of staff and will take place at the Cranleigh auditorium on November 14th.

Also, in collaboration with Zayed University, Narjes Noureddine – a gifted calligraphy artist – will showcase her work at Cranleigh Senior School in an exhibition, which will run from November 9th to 24th. The exhibition will be opened by Dr Zaki Nusseibeh, Cultural Advisor at the UAE Ministry of Presidential Affairs and the late Sheikh Zayed’s chief interpreter.

Currently a fourth year student at Zayed University’s College of Arts and Creative Enterprises, Narjes uses Arabic poetry to create her paintings and 3D works in both traditional and abstract forms of calligraphy. At the centre of her exhibition, Narjes will be creating a new commission in response to the poem Beautiful World.

“This project reflects the mission of CACE Zayed University to engage meaningfully with the professional art and design industry and community in the UAE so that students may be exposed to real life experiences that challenge and develop their skills in a professional arena” says Ann-Maree Reaney, Dean of the College of Arts and Creative Enterprises at Zayed University.

To bring this project to life, four dynamic professional opera educationalists; a director, composer, choreographer and designer will be working closely with more than 80 Cranleigh Abu Dhabi students (aged 12-16 years), over five days, to create an opera −a contemporary piece of performance art taking inspiration from the same poem across the genres of drama, music, design, art and dance. Two professional operatic singers will help to lead and inspire the performance and Narjes will also work with the students, staff and the designer on creating the stage set, which will be the backdrop for the opera.

Karen Gillingham, Head of Youth Opera at the Royal Opera House, London will head up the project team. Karen has extensive experience working with large numbers of children and community and the team has previously been involved with several high profile events, including the opening ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics.

“Every youth project brings with it a new challenge and interest”, says Karen. “What attracted us most about this one was the opportunity to use our experience to create something unique that will play a meaningful role in Abu Dhabi’s extraordinary cultural story.

“We are ambitious for this project, believing it will add to the richness of the Emirate’s cultural evolution and inspire communities beyond Cranleigh Abu Dhabi to be brave and explore the rich benefits the arts can bring to us all.”, concludes Karen.

To help the audience understand the workshop process, a film will document the rehearsals and planning process. The five-day process will be as important as the final product, giving students additional unique experience working closely with an expert professional creative team. Not only will the students gain vocal and dramatic performance confidence, but Cranleigh staff will also gain valuable professional development.  

The project will give the whole school community the opportunity to experience both Eastern and Western cultures and practices, and aims to pave the way for discussions with other educational and arts institutions, to explore ways to collaborate on similar projects in the future.

About Cranleigh Abu Dhabi:

Based on the community and family-oriented ethos of Cranleigh School, one of England’s leading independent schools founded in 1865, Cranleigh Abu Dhabi was opened on Saadiyat Island in September 2014.

Cranleigh sits at the entrance to Saadiyat’s emerging Cultural District in keeping with the school’s motto, ‘Ex Cultu Robur’ – ‘from culture comes strength’.

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi’s educational philosophy is to foster independent learning, strong emotional intelligence and encourage lifelong learners. Alongside its focus on academic standards and success, it concentrates intensely on the individual, allowing students to explore their full range of talents in fine arts, performing arts, music, sports and cultural activities.

The school campus spans seven hectares – the largest in the Emirate – and is designed to accommodate around 1500 students aged from 3 to 18 years in separate, co-educational Prep and Senior schools. Each school has its own age-appropriate classrooms and houses faculty and administration offices as well as a dining hall and library.  There is a 500 seat auditorium with orchestra pit, a separate 80 seat recital hall with recording studio, a ‘black box’ drama studio and extensive music facilities.

Cranleigh Abu Dhabi was awarded Band A rating in its first Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) inspection in May 2015, after just 128 operational days. It currently runs classes from FS1 to Year 11. Its Sixth Form Centre will open in September 2017.