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October 20, 2014

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Mukhtar Mukhtar’s passion for ‘One Night’ is more than a drop in the bucket

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Creative director Mukhtar O.S. Mukhtar works on blocking during rehearsals for the upcoming Cirque du Soleil benefit “One Night | One Drop” Thursday, March 6, 2014 at the MJ One theater at Mandalay Bay.

‘One Night for One Drop’ Preparations

Aerialists during a rehearsal for the Cirque du Soleil benefit “One Night for One Drop” on Thursday, March 6, 2014, at Michael Jackson One Theater in Mandalay Bay. Launch slideshow »

Mukhtar O.S. Mukhtar is directing a one-night-only show for Cirque du Soleil.

Well, maybe “directing” is too restrictive a word.

The man whose middle name is (coincidentally) Omar Sharif is really the star of this effort. A onetime artist and dance captain in “Love” at the Mirage, Mukhtar is imagining, assembling and designing all the moving parts (human and otherwise) for the next “One Night for One Drop” charity show at Michael Jackson One Theater at Mandalay Bay.

The show that is raising money and awareness for Cirque’s One Drop water conservation foundation is set for Friday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. (Tickets in the $225-$325 sections are available; click the One Night for One Drop website for information.)

Mukhtar is acutely, even painfully, aware of the subject matter, which is the scarcity and value of water. When asked to imagine what it is like to search for, and find, water, he does not have to think too hard.

“I have to be honest, I did not have to do a lot of research for the subject because I come from there. I am from Somalia, and there is a massive famine there, and I have lived there,” Mukhtar says while seated in a fourth-row seat, right on the aisle, during a break in rehearsals for the “One Night” performance. “I’ve experienced this walk for water, I have seen it happen, where my family would have to go and get water. It’s a normal thing there, and this is why, for me, it’s not a hard thing to bring people to this subject. I have seen it. I’m not pretending what it is.”

Mukhtar’s immediate family moved from the region when he was age 8, and he spent the rest of his formative years in London. Over time, he studied forensic science at the University of Westminster, where he took an interest in hip-hop dance and threw his passion into the art of dancing, choreography and directing by building his own dance team. He was in the original cast of “Love” and was a member of the 2013 “One Night” creative team. In the months after the “One Night” set was taken apart at O Theater in Bellagio, Mukhtar got “the call” to direct the next version of what has become an annual event.

“I had to do it,” he says, smiling. “Great cause, great event, and to fully conceptualize and direct this whole show … it is a great challenge and opportunity.”

Mukhtar offered many revelations in our chat at the theater that was originally built for the musical “Chicago” oh so long ago:

His original “love” was sciences: “That’s what it was, when I was in school, sciences, math and English,” he says. “And then a lot of my friends got into dance, and I always thought it was a really cool way to stay fit and a cool hobby. I’ve always loved music, and these passions made me look at rehearsals basically to see how bodies move.”

He is directing and helping to choreograph 109 artists, about half of what was onstage in last year’s show: “When I was first asked about this, I wanted to know which theater it was going in because we wanted to try to do something with a more intimate cast than we had last year,” Mukhtar says. “If we did it at ‘Zarkana,’ at Aria, we would have been in the range of 200 again. I wanted to do something new, explore the technological side of things, and the MJ Theater has great projection qualities, and we can transform the theater without having to use 200 artists.”

This year’s show is to “complement” the production headed up by Krista Monson last year: “Krista came in last year and did an incredible job of bringing onstage the celebration of water. She did an amazing job of that,” Mukhtar says. “So I thought how can I complement her work this year? I’m trying to do something completely different while at the same time showing the desertification of water, the lack of water. So now we can complement each other in shows that are a year apart.”

The show is to unspool in four unbroken segments: “We show the state that we are in, the lack of water and how it is affecting us. We show our character going out and seeing where the cause of this problem is, into the city setting,” Mukhtar says. “The third section is when he finally reaches this oasis, so hopefully he can find water. The fourth section summarizes the whole show through poetry and voice, but these segments, we are hoping, will be seamless. You will be in a different moment without seeing that change.”

The man with the repeated names is expecting … twins: “My wife, Sylvia, and I are now preparing for that. We don’t have names yet and are still thinking about it,” he says of the two girls due in the first week of June. “I would hope to see them as artists, in some way, give them opportunities and see what they cling to. I want to give them freedom to grow. Now I am having twins. Everything has to be difficult with me, right?”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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