The Arts Center Marks its Fifth Anniversary under the Theme Connection

Over 100 performances as part of 22 artists residencies, in a season comprising six commissions, three World Premieres, and 14 UAE Premieres and Debuts

Press Release

Celebrating five successful years of bridging cultures through performing arts, The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has announced its fifth season with an exciting and diverse line-up. Continuing its tradition of bringing game-changing programming to the UAE, the upcoming season is set to bring local and global artists whose work expands the boundaries of their forms, creating new artistic narratives to engage with the local community.

Running from September 2019 until May 2020, the new season marks The Arts Center’s fifth anniversary. Inspired by the Year of Tolerance, the season builds on The Arts Center’s mission and has been curated under the theme of Connection: bringing diverse people together through shared artistic experiences while celebrating unique traditions as well as our common humanity.

As part of the Connection theme, the lineup also spotlights artists whose work builds bridges between different forms, disciplines, and cultural traditions. The Arts Center’s season features performances, talks, and workshops by artists who excel in their fields and others who aspire to showcase their emerging voices. Through on-stage performances and audience engagement activities Off the Stage, The Arts Center builds on NYUAD’s mission to create a platform for conversations, foster innovation and creativity, and catalyze personal connections that create a broader sense of community.

Executive Artistic Director of The Arts Center Bill Bragin remarked: “Heading into our fifth anniversary is a huge milestone for The Arts Center as part of the rapidly transforming cultural scene of the UAE. In the relatively short period of time since we’ve opened, we’ve built terrific collaborations with a wide number of partners in the government and in the country’s cultural and diplomatic communities, and we’ve watched a diverse audience embrace our adventurous approach to programming. We’ve been joined by the opening of major museums, opera houses, galleries, and more, making this an extremely vibrant time for the arts in the country. We’re proud to have been able to play a role in expanding the offerings to audiences who have learned to embrace The Arts Center as a place for artistic discoveries and revelations, a place to come curious and leave inspired.”

The fifth season, which features six new works commissioned or co-commissioned by NYUAD, encompasses 22 artists residencies, three World Premieres, 14 UAE Premieres and Debuts, and over 100 performances across music, theater, dance, family shows, poetry, and film. In addition, this season brings more than 90 Off The Stage events. Off The Stage events aim to break down the distance between the stage and the audience through workshops, masterclasses, Q&As, discussions, and meals, bringing artists and performing arts professionals closer to the community as they share creative insights, hands-on knowledge, professional skills, career advice, and personal experiences.

Arts enthusiasts can experience it all and become part of a vibrant community while supporting the arts in the capital with The Arts Center Membership packages. Beginning today, members have exclusive access to reserve tickets to the fifth season’s lineup of performances. Individual tickets will become available in late August.

Raising the curtain on the 5th season

The Arts Center’s season officially opens on September 5-6, 2019 in The Red Theater with the Middle East debut of Ethiopian Dreams by Circus Abyssinia, filled with heart-stopping acrobatics, juggling, clowning, and contortion. Connecting with all members of the family, the joy-filled show is packed with astonishing stunts and enchanted adventure. The show is a tale of two brothers told through death-defying tricks and stunning ensemble feats of human juggling, hoop-diving, and Chinese pole, performed to the irresistible beats of Ethiopian music played live.

World and UAE premiere commissions

As a prelude to the season, The Arts Center has commissioned a World Premiere produced by Sima Dance Company, Dubai’s leading contemporary dance company. Ansaf, a new work by acclaimed Syrian born-and-raised Palestinian choreographer Alaa Krimed, is inspired by the writings of Canadian philosopher Alan Deneault and explores the relationship of consumerism and populism with critical thinking and the role of excellence in serving the public good. Ansaf will be presented on August 23-24 in The Black Box.

Another World Premiere commissioned by The Arts Center is Al Raheel | Departure, a contemporary theater work created by emerging Emirati writer Reem Almenhali and award-winning American director and NYUAD Professor Joanna Settle, director of Noura, which The Arts Center presented in 2018. The performance, scheduled for January 24-25, 2020 in The Black Box, has been collaboratively developed from a series of poems written in response to women evolving across childhood, womanhood, and aging while reflecting on a body that stays as the world changes.

The Arts Center is a warm and welcoming destination for the entire family. The Storyville Mosquito – created by the visionary turntablist and composer Kid Koala –  is a live animated graphic novel, co-commissioned by The Arts Center. Like Kid Koala’s Nufonia Must Fall, presented in 2017, the new show blends performers, musicians, foley artists, and technicians as it brings the characters to life using miniature sets, puppets, multiple cameras, and screens, scored in real time to an original music soundtrack performed by Kid Koala on turntables, keyboards, and electronics, joined by a string trio. The puppets tell the tale of resilience as it follows a young mosquito who leaves his small town to seek fame and fortune in the big city and fulfill his dream of playing in one of the greatest jazz bands of all time at Sid Villa’s Music Hall. The performance, which will be presented in The Red Theater on March 12-13, 2020, will include a family matinee.

Crossing Borders

Connecting to The Year of Tolerance, The Arts Center will present two pieces exploring the migration stories of young refugees. In September, it will host an extended residency by Vox Motus, Scotland’s inventive theater company, for their Middle East debut of Flight which adapts Caroline Brothers’ 2012 novel Hinterland in a magical experience that combines unsettling themes with spellbinding images. The show will be presented to an audience of 25 people per show in The Black Box, with numerous performance between September 12-21, 2019. Flight tells the heart-breaking story of two young orphaned Afghani brothers who embark on a desperate odyssey in pursuit of freedom and safety. Deepening the impact of the engagement with the University, the residency includes a talk at the NYUAD Institute by author and journalist Brothers, whose novel will be read by all incoming first year students prior to their arrival at NYUAD.

In multiple performances between February 6-15, 2020, The Arts Center invites  audiences to examine their own lives and the maps they have yet to draw.  Co-commissioned by The Arts Center, Cartography is a theatrical work for the whole family about migration that draws on artist Kaneza Schaal and writer Christopher Myers’ work with refugee youth. Cartography aims to engage young audiences, especially middle and high schoolers, with visual tools, like map-making and voice-activated digital scenery, as well as performance elements such as filmmaking, dancing, and sculptures, to create an array of visual journeys.

Expanding on the Ministry of Culture and Knowledge Development’s Al Burda initiative to support contemporary Islamic Arts,  September also features an extraordinary double bill which reflects on Arab and Islamic sounds of the African continent from Egypt to Zanzibar. In The Red Theater on September 26, Fathy Salama and Sheikh Mahmoud Tohamy’s Sufism vs Modernism will bring the sounds and rhythms of traditional Sufi chanting and contemporary Egyptian jazz together in a unique harmony of Arabic sounds; while Dhow Countries Music Academy’s concert of Zanzibari Taarab and Kidumbak will blend the instrumental colors of Western Indian Ocean culture with the African-Arab synthesis of Taarab music.

Connecting Disciplines

The Arts Center is connecting disciplines in its fifth season with unique performances including guitarist Kaki King’s Middle East Premiere of Data Not Found, performed on November 13-15, 2020 in The Black Box, which expands the form of the concert through innovative use of dynamic projection mapping and machine learning, as well as King’s signature acoustic guitar style, which similarly reinvents the possibilities of the instrument. Directed by 2019 Sharjah Biennial artist Annie Dorsen, Data Not Found examines examines a broad range of contemporary issues, including artificial intelligence, the natural world, big data, and personal empowerment.

In celebration of the centennial of the most influential choreographer of the 20th century Merce Cunningham, artistic director Robert Swinston and France’s National Center for Contemporary Dance/Angers revive two of Cunningham’s masterpieces: 1999’s pioneering video and motion-capture influenced Biped, with live music by Gavin Bryars,  and 1965’s collaboration with John Cage, How to Pass, Kick, Fall & Run, sharing the program on October 30 in The Red Theater.

Returning favorites

Returning events include the fourth edition of Barzakh Festival. . Newly reenvisioned to present six live performances on three stages all in the same night, Barzakh Festival creates a meeting place of musical streams that crosses diverse cultures. This year, commissioned by The Arts Center, Barzakh brings the Dubai-based oriental jazz-prog-fusion band NOON for their World Premiere, reimagining the work of Umm Kulthum. In addition, the festival will see two Middle East debuts with the Snarky Puppy off-shoot Bokante and South Africa’s  BCUC and two UAE debuts with Tunisian producer AMMAR 808’s electronic Mahrgreb beats and rising rai star Sofiane Saidi & Mazalda, plus the Cuban global bass of Le Dame Blanche. Some of the UAE’s leading globally-infused DJ’s will keep the festival going between band sets.

Other returning favorites include the multiple artist celebration of UAE National Day Hekayah | The Story on November 26, in the East Plaza; 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.

This fall’s mainstage student theater production, presented with the NYUAD Theater Program, features Bertolt Brecht's influential play, The Caucasian Chalk Circle, directed by Orlando Pabotoy on October 9-12, in The Black Box. In collaboration with the Music Program, The Arts Center will also host a recital by famed concert pianist Awadagin Pratt, performing Beethoven, Brahms and more in The Red Theater on December 5. Pratt’s residency will also include a talk at the NYUAD Institute as well as conducting a piano master class. The season will also present a series of solo and group recitals by NYUAD music faculty throughout the year.


In addition to the performances themselves, The Arts Center fosters creativity and creates platforms to cultivate emerging artistic voices. In our first five years, NYU Abu Dhabi has commissioned or co-commissioned 21 new pieces, many of which have toured the globe, bringing artists and new perspectives to the UAE for the first time. By investing in the creation of new work, The Arts Center supports the position of the UAE as an engine of creation and growing role as an influential global cultural center. The deepening relationship with the local and global arts communities speaks to the role of NYU Abu Dhabi as a place that supports and develops innovative new work, an extension of the university’s mission of innovative research and knowledge creation.

Executive Artistic Director Bill Bragin

Bragin continued, “The Arts Center aspires to grow, educate, and continue to connect with new audiences through our robust artist residency program. Each year, visiting artists to NYUAD become deeply embedded in the University’s interdisciplinary academic mission, complementing performances with classroom visits, workshops, panel discussions, and informal interactions. More importantly, during their residencies, artists become part of NYUAD’s’s community of thinkers, makers and doers, and part of the growing history of the performing arts on Saadiyat Island.”

The Arts Center membership packages are available and offer members a season pass to experience each production in the 2019-2020 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 members’ events. Packages start at AED 750 and can be purchased here.

For the full list of shows for the 2019-209 season, please find attached to this email. For more information please visit:

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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.