Dancing across the Silk Road



The Caracalla Dance Theatre, a prominent professional dance troupe from the Arab world, is ready to delight Beijing with their latest dance production, Sailing the Silk Road, which runs March 15 to 17 at the National Center for the Performing Arts.

This will not be the first China tour for the Caracalla Dance Theatre. In February 2016, the dance troupe offered Chinese audiences a visual feast through the Caracalla-style dance production The Arabian Nights.

According to Maestro Abdel Halim Caracalla, who founded the Caracalla Dance Theatre in 1968, the "Caracalla" dance style refers to a body language based upon Martha Graham dance disciplines blended with Arabic heritage. It is a mixture of Eastern and Western civilizations.

In July 2016, the Caracalla Dance Theatre premiered Sailing the Silk Road at the Baalbeck International Festival, one of the most prestigious arts and cultural festivals in the Middle East, with participation from over 100 artists from different countries and regions.

"China is a marvelous country that boasts a long history and extensive culture. I come to China one or twice a year and try to find creative inspiration from here," said Ivan Caracalla, son of the founder and managing director of the Caracalla Dance Theatre. "And I am glad Sailing the Silk Road is finally coming to China, as it is also an integral part of the ancient Silk Road."

Stage photo from Sailing the Silk Road.

The dance production Sailing the Silk Road is inspired by fascinating encounters between civilizations along the Silk Road, and a historical account of great heroes, adventurers, thinkers and pioneers who have carved the communication highway of the ancient world and built a bridge of tolerance and understanding between East and West.

During the two-hour performance, the young Chinese man Ti Mu'er in the name of Jupiter, king of the gods based on Roman mythology, embarks on a fascinating journey in a quest to rekindle the fading flame of humanity and glory along the Silk Road.

To appeal to Chinese dance lovers, the director has made some adaptations in character design and choreography.

For example, the protagonist of the dance has been replaced with a young man from China. And Chinese audiences will follow his footsteps, experiencing the local history, culture as well as customs of different countries and regions.

Stage photo from Sailing the Silk Road.

Behind the success of Sailing the Silk Road, team work plays a vital role throughout the process.

"In the initial stage of producing the program, I think it was a tough challenge for me, as performers come from countries including Lebanon, China, India, Iran and Italy," Caracalla said. "However, I have realized art itself is a magical language. Performers may have different cultural backgrounds, but they can reach a consensus through art."

Cultural cooperation is important for building better relationships between countries, Caracalla said, and pointed to a major Chinese project as a positive development in that area.

"China proposed the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013 and I truly support the initiative," he said. "In my opinion, it is more than the promotion of political and business cooperation, but means much in the field of cultural and people-to-people exchanges."

Those exchanges don't just cross national borders — they traverse time itself, Caracalla said.

"Sailing the Silk Road wants to convey the idea that artists have been the guardians of humanity and preservers of dreams, translating our identities through their creations and transporting it from one century to another, defining our human values from one era to another," he added.

Stage photo from Sailing the Silk Road.

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Caracalla Dance Theatre. Over the past several decades, the dance troupe has created more than 14 ballets and musicals, including adaptations of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Taming of the Shrew and Much Ado about Nothing.

The Caracalla Dance Theatre has performed in the most renowned theatrical venues and cultural cities across the world, from Carnegie Hall in New York and Sadler's Wells in London to the Kennedy Center in Washington DC and Theatre des Champs Elysees in Paris.

The dance troupe has received global press recognition through its interpretations of original dance forms that reveal a rich and mysterious East blended with Western technique.

The UK-based magazine Dance Europe gives the troupe a thumbs-up: "We in the West love to think we are culturally far more sophisticated than the East, but for pure splendor ingrained with soul, Caracalla is an unprecedented joy."

Looking to the future, the managing director told China Daily the troupe's duty is not only to maintain the historic and ancestral name of Caracalla, but more importantly, to expand the Caracalla Dance Theatre into new artistic, innovative and creative frontiers.