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Lifting the veil.

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".

"Shakespeare is a man for all humanity," says Caracalla, "what he wrote is for all time. That is what is great about Shakespeare." Caracalla's own masterly touch comes in his "orietalisation" of the English playwright. "I try to say what Shakespeare says in an oriental way. The choreography, the music and the costume are all put into oriental form without changing the Shakespearean theme," says Caracalla.

In "An Oriental Night's Dream" Caracalla has, as in his past adaptations, assiduously attempted to translate each Shakespearean image into a choreographic movement. At the same time the characters, music and costumes are all given an oriental touch -- thus the king is a Haroun al Rashid figure; the music score is written by famous Arab composers such as Marcel Khalife and Walid Gholmieh; and the costumes and a material for the setting are made from the colourful oriental silks and cloth replete with arabesque designs.

The result is a spectacular feast or movement, sound and colour -- the feline agility and celerity of the 30 dancers, their lavish costumes ablaze in colours, and the enhancing eastern nuances of the music to which they dance are the trademarks of the performances by the Caracalla dance troupe. On an earlier tour of Europe, one critic described the Caracalla troupe as "lifting the veil on the mysterious East".

Caracalla's success, both in his own country and abroad, is a deserved reward not only for his considerable talents as an innovative choreographer but also for his tenacity in keeping the dance company together, and performing, throughout the dark days of Lebanon's civil strife.

To continue training and rehearsals during the war, the troupe, which includes both Christians and Muslims, would spend many months in Caracalla's hometown of Baalbek in the Beqaa valley, far from the perilous turmoil in Beirut.

"When I presented my shows in Lebanon during the war we would only play for a short time," recalls Caracalla, "because we would open and then after one week the |boom-boom' of guns would start so we would pack up and go over to the otther side where we would start performing again and then more |boom-boom' would start there. When we got caught under the shelling we used to run away one by one in order not to all be killed in the same bus."

As well as sheltering in Baalbek, the company also took refuge at various times during Beirut's war-days in the mainly-Muslim town of Tripoli in north Lebanon, in the mainly-Christian town of Jounieh, and as special guests of Druze chief Walid Jumblatt in the remote Shouf mountains.

"The success of this company allows us to give a message of culture in the same of the Lebanese and Arab people," says Caracalla. That message has found a warm welcome from enthusiastic audiences worldwide.
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Title Annotation:the Middle East's Caracalla dance company
Author:Trendle, Giles
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Jul 1, 1992
Previous Article:Against all odds.
Next Article:The village of clear light.

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