Every day we are bombarded by television and online images of the Arab world. Photographers and pundits shape our conception of this vast region, in which our country is heavily invested, but from which we are culturally disconnected. But how often do we discuss Arabic art, music or dance?

A few years ago, the University Musical Society (UMS) began to highlight a different region of the world each season. They started with the Arab world and went on to explore Africa, Mexico, the Americas and Asia. This season, they are beginning the cycle again by returning to the Arab world, a theme for which there is no shortage of varied artistic material to fill this season’s roster.

The theme of global performing arts, however, does not stray from UMS’s regularly impressive lineup. Highlights of this season, in addition to the Arab-themed performances, are the Mark Morris Dance Group from New York City and the upcoming return of world-renowned theater group Complicité.

The largest Arab-American community in the United States is about 40 miles from Ann Arbor in Dearborn, Michigan. According to Claire Conley Rice, Interim Director of Education and Audience Development at UMS, the society chooses world regions to “connect local communities with a season of artists where they or their ancestors are from.” It hopes specific events will inspire local communities to come out for other UMS events, and there are often informative activities like artist talks and panel discussions before or after performances.

This year, Rice said, UMS is attempting to “festivalize the approach to global programming” by adding more than just music to the roster. The festival includes a theatrical interpretation of “Richard III: An Arab Tragedy.” The play is set in an unspecified oil-rich Gulf location and will be performed in Arabic with English supertitles.

According to Rice, the goal of these performances is not so much to send a political message but to “celebrate a part of the world that has been plagued with negative stereotypes.” The performances not only pay tribute to a rich cultural world but help audiences understand the diversity within it.

There will be a number of unique events in upcoming months, including The Culture Project and Sulayman Al-Bassam Theater’s performance of Shakespeare, and Algerian choreographer Heddy Maalem’s interpretation of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” This season also includes a book group, with one session led by Zeitouna, the local Arab-Jewish women’s group. The women will lead a discussion about “The Lemon Tree,” a story of an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who form a relationship in spite of their surroundings.

Artists from across the Arab world will be in Ann Arbor this year to show us that seemingly disconnected regions of the world with differing values and ways of life can combine to create art that is dynamic and exciting.

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