From a young dancer onstage to behind the scenes of the capital’s biggest cultural events – we chat UAE arts and heritage with former Emirati ballerina Alia Al Neyadi, an intern at Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority
Tell us what it is about ballet that drew you in…
When I was three I visited my first class with my mum, who was teaching dance, but it took me until age seven to start dancing. One day I just started to dance with her, and I’ve been dancing ever since.
When I dance, there’s a point to every piece. I base my dancing on my experiences – this is what helps me embody the piece.
Any dancer who dances without putting their life into it, it’s not right. For me, the emotion of the dance comes before the feet – and if you’re watching my feet, you’re not enjoying what I’m doing.
Ballet is known for its ornate costumes – have you ever faced any controversy as a result of your time on stage?
In the beginning I had the critics – they would say ‘she’s inappropriate, she’s a rebel’. But how can I get upset with people who have no idea what I’m doing?
People are still developing an understanding of what art is over here. We didn’t have this for hundreds of years like the rest of the world, and because it’s not a part of our culture, people think it’s bad. But when they start to understand it’s art, it’s different.
And how do you see that understanding developing in Abu Dhabi?
Right now, the UAE is doing a great job of promoting culture and the doors are opening very slowly. Even if it’s about visiting international artists, the idea that they are coming here means that it’s becoming more normalised.
The development of the arts reflects the union between local and international culture, this connection to the Western world. Art here is still linked to religion, heritage, poetry. We’re still exploring landmarks of who we were and putting our history out there.
Through art we’re trying to connect everyone together.
How will Emirati heritage shape the future of culture in Abu Dhabi?
We’ve not really reached that point where we can find our identity in art, and the first step is connecting it with our heritage.
We may not always know how to analyse or interpret a painting, but we still hold this fascination for it. We have that same fascination and need to interpret museums, culture, art and architecture.
It’s about creating a time line. We need to connect past, present and future. We need to promote our people, too – and that’s my mission.