The festival: Abu Dhabi Festival
With its dependably diverse programme of music, theatre and dance, Abu Dhabi’s premier arts festival has always striven to, in its own words, “deepen cross-cultural dialogue”. This year’s edition (7–30 March) sings the same tune, with more than 500 artists from 17 countries slated to take the stage. “Every year we challenge ourselves to bring an incredibly varied range of performances that crosses genres, cultures and disciplines,” says artistic director Huda Alkhamis-Kanoo. Our top pick? The Korean National Ballet’s rendition of Giselle (7 March) – specially choreographed by famed French danseur étoile Patrice Bart – which tells the tale of a young peasant girl who falls for a deceitful nobleman. Other highlights include music from the Korean Symphony Orchestra (8 March) – the Republic of Korea is the festival’s Country of Honour this year – and American piano maestro Justin Kauflin (11 March). Plus, making its Middle East debut is Sombras (21 March), a colourful production by Spain’s Sara Baras Flamenco Ballet Company.
The hotel: Andaz Capital Gate
Luxe hotel brand Andaz has made its first foray into the Middle East – and what an entrance. Set over floors 18-33
of Capital Gate – the 160m so-called “Leaning Tower of Abu Dhabi” – are 189 snazzy, modern rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling windows offering Blade Runner-esque views of the Abu Dhabi skyline and, of course, the now-requisite rooftop pool and Insta-primed sky garden.
The event: Red Bull Air Race
The month sees the annual Red Bull Air Race World Championship (8–9 February) return to Abu Dhabi, with the world’s best racing pilots aiming to navigate an aerial slalom track in the fastest possible time. The high-speed, low-altitude spectacle plays out over the crystalline waters of the Arabian Gulf; catch the action from the purpose-built race village on the Corniche breakwater.
The exhibition: Rembrandt, Vermeer & the Dutch Golden Age
The Louvre Abu Dhabi’s latest blockbuster exhibition centres on the 17th-century Dutch Masters and their contemporaries. Rembrandt, Vermeer & the Dutch Golden Age (14 February – 18 May) includes large-scale paintings – including Vermeer’s The Lacemaker – from the Louvre Paris as well as works on loan from the privately owned Leiden Collection in New York.
The games: Gold standard
It’s almost here: the long-awaited, much-prepped for and hugely exciting Special Olympics World Summer Games (14–21 March) land in Abu Dhabi next month. The event will see the UAE become the first country in the Middle East to host an Olympic competition. And it’s set to be immense: after the opening ceremony on 14 March at Zayed Sports City Stadium, more than 7,000 intellectually disabled athletes from 170 countries – including a 177-strong UAE contingent – will compete across 24 sports, including the hotly contested track and field events where Emirati Hamda Al Hosani (pictured) will attempt to rack up yet another gold medal for the host country in the 100m sprint. One of the most successful Special Olympians of all time, the 30-year-old, who suffers from epilepsy, has already won 17 medals and counting. Speaking last year, Hamda said the games coming to Abu Dhabi will be a big moment for inclusivity in the region. “In the Middle East, people look at intellectual disabilities as a bad thing but I want to change that negative perception.” Game on.