The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi Kicks off its Fifth Anniversary Season with an Extraordinary Lineup of Performances

Press Release

In celebration of its fifth anniversary, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) officially launched its season at a press conference led by Executive Artistic Director of The Arts Center at NYUAD Bill Bragin. Bragin introduced the new season’s remarkable lineup of performances while highlighting the significant milestones in The Arts Center’s history. Inspired by the Year of Tolerance, the coming season adopts the theme of Connection, which reflects the myriad ways The Arts Center connects people from diverse cultures and backgrounds through shared artistic experiences.

The Arts Center’s fifth season, which will run from September 2019 until June 2020, features inspiring local and global artists, who will present over 100 performances in a season comprising six commissions, three World Premieres, 14 UAE Premieres and Debuts, and more than 90 Off the Stage audience engagement and educational events.  This season will build on The Arts Center’s mission, which aims to connect people, foster creativity, open cultural dialogue, and support emerging talent.

Also new this year, The Arts Center is pleased to welcome new partners from the business community, whose generosity supports its ambitious programming. Coming on board as lead sponsors and helping The Arts Center to realize its vision are Mubadala and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB). Gulf Agency Company (GAC) has also joined as a sustaining supporter.

About the fifth season, NYU Abu Dhabi Vice Chancellor Mariët Westermann remarked: "I am delighted to celebrate this milestone anniversary for The Arts Center in this tenth academic year of NYU Abu Dhabi and my first as Vice Chancellor. In many ways, given my involvement in the formation of the original vision for NYU Abu Dhabi, when I served as the founding provost, this has been a return home for me. And it has been remarkable to see the growth and accomplishment of the university's research and scholarship but also its leadership in the arts for the campus and the broader community.  The Center's productions have captivated diverse audiences through vibrant public programming and engagement. We have become an integral part of the rich cultural tapestry that makes up Abu Dhabi and the UAE, and I am full of anticipation for the next five years of the arts at NYUAD."

Bragin added “It’s thrilling to reach this milestone season as The Arts Center continues to grow and evolve. We’re grateful for the trust we’ve earned from enthusiastic audiences who come to us to discover inspiring new artistic experiences in a season filled with commissioned new works and regional premieres by groundbreaking artists. As we deepen our relationship with the public, we’re equally grateful that some of the most respected members of the UAE’s business community, including Mubadala and ADCB, have invested in our continued success. We’re also thrilled that this year welcomes Mariët Westermann back to NYUAD in her new role as Vice Chancellor.  As the former and inaugural provost at NYUAD, her early vision of public programs as a core value of the University and its integration in the cultural and intellectual life of the UAE is reflected in the maturation of The Arts Center.”

Ethiopian Dreams by Circus Abyssinia is the opening performance of The Arts Center’s season, which officially commences on September 5, 6, and 7, 2019. Ethiopian Dreams brings a joy-filled, high energy show for the whole family that captures the celebratory spirit of the occasion, and serves as a prelude for the following week’s Ethiopian New Year. The next performance, which resonates with the season’s theme and the Year of Tolerance, is Flight by Scotland’s inventive theater company Vox Motus. Based on Hinterland by Caroline Brothers (who will be featured in a talk at the NYUAD Institute during the residency) and adapted by Oliver Emanuel, this groundbreaking actorless theater piece for audiences of only 25 people at a time, touchingly depicts the story of two young Afghani refugees on their journey to asylum in Europe.

The Arts Center will also present an extraordinary double bill exploring Arab sounds of the African continent, from Egypt to Zanzibar,  Fathy Salama with Sheikh Mahmoud Tohamy’s Sufism vs Modernism / and Dhow Countries Music Academy’s Zanzibari Taarab & Kidumbak. The concert reflects the goals of the Al Burda Festival, an initiative launched by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development to support contemporary Islamic arts. Fathy Salama, the Arab world’s only Grammy winner, and Egyptian vocalist Sheikh Mahmoud Tohamy will showcase the sounds and rhythms of traditional Sufi chanting and contemporary Arabian jazz. Zanzibar’s acclaimed Dhow Countries Music Academy bring the instrumental colors of Indian Ocean culture blended with the African-Arab synthesis of Taarab music, presented in partnership with the NYUAD Music Program.

The Arts Center also joins the worldwide centennial celebration of Merce Cunningham, one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century, with the Middle East debuts of BIPED, a pioneering multi-media dance piece performed by CNDC d’Angers, featuring live music performed by composer Gavin Bryars and his ensemble and How to Pass, Kick, Fall & Run, with music by Cunningham’s longtime collaborator John Cage, as the Center continues to spotlight landmark dance works of the late 20th century.

Returning favorites in The Arts Center’s fifth season include  Hekayah | The Story, for the first time held under the patronage of the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development, in commemoration of the UAE National Day.  Hosted by Emirati poet Salem Al Attas, Hekayah | The Story is a multiple-artist celebration of heritage that draws from the diverse communities of the UAE to share original poetry, prose, and song. The artists will be selected through a collaborative process curated by NYUAD faculty and staff as well as members of the UAE artistic community including Bill Bragin, Deborah Williams, Deepak Unnikrishnan, Dorian Paul Rodgers, Mohamed Alhashimi, and Aathma Nirmala Dious.

Other returning favorites include the CinemaNA contemporary Arabic cinema series, a collaboration with NYUAD’s Film and New Media program and Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi on selected Monday nights; and the eighth season of the monthly Friday night open mic Rooftop Rhythms, presented with the support of the US Embassy. Opening the second half of the season in January is a World Premiere commissioned by The Arts Center:  Al Raheel | Departure, a contemporary theater work created by emerging Emirati writer Reem Almenhali and award-winning American director and NYUAD Professor Joanna Settle.

That is followed by the fourth edition of Barzakh Festival re-envisioned to present six live performances plus DJ sets on three stages all in the same night. Barzakh Festival creates a meeting place of musical streams that crosses diverse cultures, and features French-Algerian Rai star Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda; Tunisian electronic producer AMMAR 808; South Africa’s propulsive BCUC; Cuban rapper, singer and flutist Le Dame Blance; Bokante, a world-jazz spin-off of Grammy winners Snarky Puppy; and Dubai’s very own NOON, who will present the world premiere of reinventions of the music of Umm Kulthum, commissioned by The Arts Center.

Newly announced in the season’s lineup are two inventive performances by composer/sound artist Sxip Shirey, which will turn the spotlight on artists from the UAE. On April 9, Shirey hosts Sxip’s Hour of Charm which will surprise and delight with an idiosyncratic lineup of UAE-based artists, which Shirey will curate with The Arts Center’s Bill Bragin. On April 17, Shirey and choreographer Coco Karol will lead the immersive site specific choral and movement piece, The Gauntlet.  In this piece, texts drawn from “movement interviews” with members of the Abu Dhabi community will form the basis of an intimate experience bathing audiences in waves of harmony, poetry, and gesture, as they are led through musical corridors of sonic architecture created by the human voice, with a choir drawn from the UAE.

Building on NYUAD’s collaboration with the Special Olympics and the University’s ongoing commitment to awareness, The Arts Center will partner with the Special Olympics UAE and local schools throughout Abu Dhabi to launch a series of sensory friendly performances during the 2019-2020 season. These events tailor performances to support the needs of young people on the autism spectrum, and with intellectual disabilities, and other social and sensory sensitivities, and create more relaxed environments for them to experience the work. It is the hope that this series will help spark other performance venues across the UAE to provide similar opportunities for People of Determination.

Apart from live performances, The Arts Center organizes Off The Stage events, which include an extensive lineup of workshops, masterclasses, talks, and Q&As as part of each artist's residency such as Techniques Workshop: Circus Techniques and Ethiopian MusicCreator's Workshop: Arabic Music Composition; and Techniques Workshop: Merce Cunningham Dance Techniques;  and a series of Arts Chats organized with the University’s Career Development Center, among many more.

The Arts Center offers membership packages which provide its members a season pass to experience each production in the 2019-20 season, plus exclusive early ticket bookings. In addition, members will gain behind-the-scenes access and have the chance to attend workshops, talks, and exclusive events. Packages start at AED 750 and can be purchased here.

For the full list of shows for the 2019-20 season, as well as the Membership Program, please visit:

About NYU Abu Dhabi

NYU Abu Dhabi is the first comprehensive liberal arts and research campus in the Middle East to be operated abroad by a major American research university. NYU Abu Dhabi has integrated a highly selective undergraduate curriculum across the disciplines with a world center for advanced research and scholarship. The university enables its students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, humanities, and arts 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 over 115 countries 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.