The remarkable story of the UAE was told in spectacular style on Monday as thousands converged on the capital for a breathtaking theatrical show in celebration of the 48th National Day.
Patriotic pride was on full display as UAE leaders joined people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi to pay tribute to the country's rich roots and growing role on the global stage.
Legacy of our Ancestors, a stunning production masterminded by an international collaboration of leading designers, production specialists, technicians and professional performers from 65 countries, shone a light on the formidable achievements of a nation transformed from a desert land of untapped potential into buzzing metropolises.
A vast stage occupying 10,000 square metres, equal to the area of eight Olympic pools, was built in less than six months to be used for the event.
There was rich reward for the toil, with spectators enthralled by the lavish stage show charting the rapid rise of the Emirates through cutting-edge visual and audio technology and a gifted cast of performers.
A 19-metre puppet whale, laser lights and more than a thousand props dazzled and delighted the enchanted crowds.
Royalty and international dignitaries, led by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, were met with warm applause as they entered the striking stadium.
The UAE flag was carried inside the stadium by 10 members of the Presidential Guard, who marched in tune with a military song as crowds fervently waved UAE flags.
The show centred on five stories of Emirati life, from a girl who dared to dream and spoke to the Moon, to a whale that brought hope to an entire village.
One young member of the vast crowd, Maryam Ibrahim, 11, sat anxiously waiting for the show to start.
“I heard some of those stories from my father during road trips,” the sixth-grader said. “For the first time I will see them live in front of me outside my imagination.”
Boats were ushered on to the stage by four divers as one of the stories started to unfold, while other divers stood holding lanterns to complement the picturesque moonlit sailing trip.
Spectators take photos of Al Fursan as they perform aerobatics above Abu Dhabi Corniche. Leslie Pableo for The National
Soon after the stage erupted with steam and rough waves demonstrating a storm that drowned the diver’s fleet.
Then a crew of 26 people created the structure of a whale on stage, for a different tale.
Daughters of Amber tells the story of Arabian Gulf residents in 1941 who were awakened by a whale that drifted to their seashore.
The whale brought them fortune as they managed to extract amber from its throat, during a time where the area was experiencing harsh economic conditions.
Maryam was certainly not disappointed as she watched her father’s stories come to life.
Her mother Ghalya Al Hammadi and father Ibrahim Al Hammadi, 36, said they were keen to take their six children, aged between one and 17, to the show.
“These days we struggle to connect children with the past. This kind of show makes it easier for us and more understandable for them, because those stories should be viewed not heard,” said Mr Al Hammadi, 36.
Sultan Al Thumairi, 18, and his cousin Majid Al Thumairi, 16, were attending the official National Day celebrations for the first time.
“We usually go rounding in the car parade on the Corniche,” Sultan said.
“We would then watch the videos of the show and feel sorry we missed it."