It’s been nearly two months since I first caught a glimpse of the new Bahrain National Theatre and I am still as excited about it now as I was then. It was as I took my seat for the Placido Domingo concert (held on a beautiful outdoor stage behind the Museum) that I looked up to see it there in all its glory. Although I had known it was being built I didn’t know exactly where so it came as a bit of a surprise, and I may have been guilty of spending more time staring in awe at the Theatre that night than I did looking at the stage!
Needless to say, I left the event very intrigued and itching for an opportunity to get a closer look.
Thankfully, it wasn’t too long before that opportunity arrived. In early December the Bahrain Bloggers were invited to tour the Theatre and attend the dress rehearsals of the very first performance to be held there, Gala Russe: Stars of the Russian Ballet. The show featured a selection of dances from Le Corsaire, Swan Lake, Don Quixote and other famous ballets performed by 14 soloists from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theatres as well as 8 dancers from the Yacobson Ballet Theatre corps de ballet. Having seen Giselle at the Bolshoi Theatre when I was in Moscow back in 2006, I knew we were in for a treat.
Up close and with its golden dome glistening in the sun, the Theatre really was a sight to behold as we arrived for our tour. We started in the Art Garden, a large outdoor performance area, and then walked through the vast reception area and into the main theatre which seats 1,001 people (the architecture is inspired by the folk tales in One Thousand and One Nights). There is also a smaller indoor hall designed to be used for workshops and other smaller events which we didn’t see.
As we walked through, I was struck by how the building had a very modern feel to it but somehow managed to maintain a great sense of character too. Lots of bright white space, stylish curves and bold wooden accents work well together to create a fresh and unique ambience. The interior of the main theatre is open yet intimate and the whole building, which is the third largest theatre in the Arab world, has a real sense of understated grandeur about it.
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” – Oscar Wilde
To get up close and see the dancers rehearsing was a very special experience. Their professionalism and dedication was obvious throughout as they switched from talking to the crew or sharing a joke to complete focus and concentration while practicing their solos. The five year old wannabe ballerina inside me found it very difficult to take her eyes off their oh-so-pointy toes as they swivelled and twirled!
I was lucky enough to attend the final performance of the full show the next day which was absolutely captivating. A demonstration of incredible strength, enviable grace and the result of hours and hours and hours of hard work. Rows of colourful tutus gliding effortlessly across the stage and during one of the dances in particular, Fragment from Illusive Ball, Natalia Ledovskaya and Mikhail Pukhov (both from the Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Moscow Music Theatre where Natalia is the Prima Ballerina) moved with such fluidity they literally looked as though they were floating on air. A magical performance truly befitting for the inauguration of an equally magical venue.
Of course I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning food somehow! The cafe at the Theatre is only open during events at the moment but there are plans in place to have it open full time in the future. I really hope this happens soon as if done properly it has the potential to become a local favourite with great views looking out over the water. I’d also love to see tours being run in the future so people can enjoy the building outside the scheduled performance times. I would definitely want to take my visitors there!
If you haven’t had a chance to experience the Theatre yourself yet there are a few great opportunities coming up over the next few months. There will be two performances of Giuseppe Verdi’s Italian opera Rigoletto on 19th and 21st January and tickets for that are on sale now at Virgin Megastore (BD 40 for the main floor and BD 30 for the balcony – having sat on the balcony for the ballet I wouldn’t hesitate to buy seats for that section as I had a great view of the stage). If opera isn’t your thing then keep your eyes peeled for the announcement of the Spring of Culture line up as some of those events will also be held at the National Theatre.
Photos of the audience and dancers in pink tutus supplied by Ministry of Culture. All other photos © Appetite for Discovery.
[Disclosure: I attended the dress rehearsals and performance of Gala Russe as a guest of the Ministry of Culture. No request was made for me to write about the event or the Theatre and all views expressed are my own.]