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Michael Kaiser

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Another Visit to Oman

Posted: 01/09/12 08:08 AM ET

I have written before of the work my colleague, Brett Egan, and I are doing in Muscat, Oman where we are helping manage the inauguration of the Royal Opera House Muscat.

The opera house is an astonishingly beautiful venue which has already hosted productions of Turandot and Carmen, performances by Plácido Domingo, Renée Fleming, Yo-Yo Ma, Christoph Eschenbach, American Ballet Theatre and La Scala Ballet, amongst other attractions.

Two weeks ago we announced the season for this January through March, a mix of Western, Eastern, African and, of course, Arab art that fulfills the institution's mission of being a place where all cultures can be enjoyed.

I was particularly taken with the remarkable accomplishment of this institution sitting at several performances of Swan Lake by the Mariinsky Ballet last week. The first response of many when I told them I would spend Christmas and New Years watching Swan Lake in Muscat was, "Who will come to see it there?"

The answer is simply: anyone who can get a ticket. Every one of the five performances was sold out.

The audience was filled with a diverse group that every American arts organization would envy. Not surprisingly, there were many expatriates who make their homes in Oman or the United Arab Emirates, not a few of them with their children. One could hear French, Italian, German, and English accents in abundance.

But I was struck by the number of Omanis in the audience -- both those who had already experienced ballet and those for whom this was a first experience with a tutu. There were also a fair number of Indians; India, after all, is just a short plane trip away from Muscat and many Indians live in Oman.

There was a genuine sense of excitement about experiencing something new and about visiting such a glorious new building. And while Act I of Swan Lake seemed to perplex many in the audience (something common to audiences worldwide!) by the end of Act II, the 'white act', the audience was swept away. There were gasps at the beauty of the White Swan Pas de Deux, appreciation for the magnificent corps de ballet and the inevitable applause for the four cygnets.

Virtually no one left during either intermission. The entire audience stayed for the three hour performance and stood and cheered at the end. (It was interesting to watch the audience grow more and more comfortable with applauding after each solo or group number; I have learned from running a few ballet companies that this applause is crucial -- it gives the dancers time to catch their breath.)

Such an experience reminds me that there is truly no Eastern art or Western art or Asian art, etc. There is only art. And great art has the power to move us because great artists speak to us no matter what the language.

It was a great holiday week.