Zayed and the Dream, London Coliseum

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The Independent Culture

Caracalla Theatre's Zayed and the Dream is a state-sponsored pageant. It celebrates the life of Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, founder of the United Arab Emirates, through cheesy voiceover and flag-waving dance numbers.

The show translates Zayed's life into a fairytale, with seven mystic horsemen riding out of the desert to give him their gifts: wisdom, courage, honour and so on.

They ride out of film and digital sequences by Sergio and Mattia Metalli. Desert vistas are cut together with film of horses thundering by. Real dancers stand behind the film screens, blending live and virtual action. The riders (without their dashing steeds, sadly) then appear on stage to give their gifts.

Zayed and the Dream's horsemen aren't that far from the fairy godmothers of The Sleeping Beauty, a ballet that has its own elements of state pageantry. But Beauty has Tchaikovsky's music, and real choreography. The Caracalla horsemen just run around with their flags, as the backdrop spells out the nature of each gift.

Chosen by fate, given all virtues, the stage Zayed has no personality and no real story. The real man is celebrated for "making the desert green", working to adapt the harsh environment. On stage, he sits in mystic contemplation while other people dig the irrigation ditches.

The dance numbers, choreographed by Alissar Caracalla, are simplistic. Caracalla bring on lots of dancers, in elaborate, glittering costumes. Then they run in circles, or stand in lines with shaking shoulders. The impact comes from the swishing fabrics and the sheer numbers, not from their steps.

There's a little more energy in the second half, when Dancers of the World show up to help with the celebrations. Chinese, Ukrainian and flamenco troupes do traditional dances, showing off Cossack leaps and fluttering Chinese sleeves. Then it's back to generic celebrations.