Friday, May 31, 2013

DCC Ensemble Kaleidoskop Wien at DUCTAC

Dubai Concert Committee ended the season with all strings attached, roping in the Ensemble Kaleidoskop Wien for a night of violin, viola, cello and bass from Austria. I especially liked the 4th movement of their Dvorak op 77 first half, and the Drdla finale. A great concert, and I'm looking forward to next season.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chinese Brush Painting at DUCTAC

I checked out this lovely brush painting exhibition at DUCTAC last week, featuring brush paintings by Mei Zhongzhi and Chen Hang. It was a good mix of two different styles of brush painting.

Mei's works were mostly of animals and plants, and more expressionist. He used a lot of color, mixing blurred, diluted strokes in the background, with sharp, bright ones to highlight parts of the scene.

Chen's works, on the other hand, centered mainly on inanimate objects or landscapes, with minimal color. They evoked a somber mood, as if the scene had been abandoned for a long time.

David Hansel on the Power of Theory

New York University Abu Dhabi hosted David Hansel of University Paris Descartes and Hebrew University of Jerusalem as a guest speaker last week. It was a really great talk, as it was not just about his neuroscience specialization, but also about theory in general. Thanks to him, I got a lead on a fascinating recent development: the ability of scientists, thanks to the Clarity Project, to render a brain transparent, allowing them to examine its structure without physically tearing it apart. He also described intriguing experiments in "optogenetics", or the ability to to excite and inhibit specific neurons using light, and illustrated the correlation of visual cortex activity to visual stimulus.

The second part was about theory as a scientific concept, during which he talked about the different definitions of the word in experimental medicine and physico-mathematics, pitting the likes of Lord Kelvin against Ramon y Cajal with regards to their perceptions of what a theory is and should do. He finished by giving us a tour of the "five levels of theory", ranging from the more neuroscience-friendly level 1 to the more physics-friendly level 5.

Melisa Le Rue and Dubai Vocal Ensemble at The Fridge

The 13th season of The Fridge Concert Series launched with Melisa Le Rue as the vanguard performer.

Le Rue has been an Ember regular for a while, and I have occasionally dropped by to catch a live performance. I was hoping to hear some more jazz-oriented songs, but, alas, that was not to be. Even so, there were a lot of good songs to hear at the concert, all of which had lyrics composed by Le Rue herself. She sang hip-hop through the cool opening number "Easy". "Lover", about open relationships, had a pleasant soul . "Different Kind of Day", which I think is to be released in the near future, was a great easy listening number. My favorite was the nice funk sound of "Here We Are".

Stoyan Stoyanov, Rami Lakkis and four other musicians provided accompaniment, and a number of the songs were sung to music composed by Stoyanov.

Her last two songs, "Lost Soul" and "Unite" were backed by "Choir of the Year 2013" winners Dubai Vocal Ensemble, who also beautifully rendered Micheal Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" in choir style.

Flavourelish food blog serves neat eats

My writer pal Angela B. Hundal has started a new food blog, Flavourelish "for all things food in Dubai". I was featured recently, along with my preparation of the Indonesian/Malay vegetable curry soup Sayur Lodeh. Looking at the content so far, we can expect more locally intimate restaurant reviews, features on fellow foodies, and other nom-sensical commentary. Check it out at

The Cuban Quartet Band at Jazz 'N' Fizz

I had a couple more days than usual in Abu Dhabi last week, so I went for an overnight. And I cashed in the rain check for a visit to a place I had intended on visiting over 3 months ago: Jazz & Fizz.

After the sore disappointment that the so-called "Jazz" Club at the Abu Dhabi Hilton turned out to be, I walked into the Corniche Sofitel with low expectations.

If anything, the decor of the place was good.

To my delight, the resident band, called The Cuban Quartet Band, was actually quite good. They played some jazz tunes, a bit of bossa nova, a bit of funk, and a bit of classic R&B. I liked their harmony and their versatility; the singer could play the acoustic guitar, and the bassist and keyboardist also changed instruments as needed. The singer had a rich deep voice suited for jazz in both Spanish and English, although she needed a bit of instrumental cover for the high notes. If you want to catch the jazz and jazz-related genres, it would be best to get there early, assuming they keep up the pattern of lapsing into pop-ish genres later in the night.

I ended up with a very enjoyable night of jazz, with great wine and a REALLY good cheese platter. The Cuban Jazz Quartet is only around (as far as their current contract goes) until June 8th, so if you're in the capital, you need to arrange for a jazz evening at the Sofitel before then (Wed. - Sun. only).

Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu on Modern Islam and Science

The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, spoke at New York University Abu Dhabi last week, on the topic "Modern Islam and Science".

Although he did start with the obligatory introduction of science in the early Islamic world, he eventually moved on to what turned out to be a very statistics-oriented talk. He produced slide after slide of bar charts about the world and the OIC with regards to scientific output and investment.

Interestingly, Tunisia leads in terms of investment in R&D at 2.45% , while Turkey leads in terms of overall scientific publications (the only GCC country in the top 10 of either list is Saudi Arabia)  Also, probably due to social and cultural factors, the pool of research scientists in OIC countries includes a relatively healthy female representation of 33%. As expected, a majority of R&D funding in the OIC countries comes from government sources, with Malaysia leading the way in privatization.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Star Trek: Into Darkness

Opinion is somewhat split on the whole reboot, but considering how crappy many pre-reboot Star Trek movies have been, Into Darkness is actually pretty good, and is definitely better than its immediate predecessor.

I watched this one at the Ibn Battuta's IMAX 3D only after much convincing that the post-conversion 3D did not stink (I hate post-conversion 3D). It didn't, thankfully. My only major complaints are the gratuitous Alice Eve changing scene and the unnecessary Spock/Spock video conference. Benedict Cumberbatch pretty much stole this show, lovingly polishing each syllable in gravel before finally unleashing it. The other actors did well too. The opening chase scene was great, and the plot in general was written well, with many more twists than your average Star Trek film. There were a couple of nice homages to earlier Star Trek films as well.

MONSTERS by Jennifer Stelco at 4 Walls

A lot of Dubai Drama Group members were promoting it on their feeds, which is how it came to my attention. MONSTERS by local expressionist Jennifer Stelco is exhibiting at 4 Walls Art Gallery in Al Quoz (a little difficult to find, but a really nice space). Stelco uses a palette of bright and earthy colors, with material layering in some places, and thick daubs of paint that result in a rich, lumpy topography. A number of them feature Indian motifs like topknots, multiple heads and arms, and dramatic Nataraja-like poses. Some paintings are more chaotic, with small irregular shapes in many colors fitting into each other. Others are cleaner - mostly the ones I personally liked.

Acid Fields by Shawki Youssef at Green

While waiting to get into a play, I sneaked a peek at Acid Fields by Shawki Youssef, exhibiting at Green Art Gallery in Al Serkal Avenue. Alluding to the conflicts currently simmering in the Middle East, he has drawn out imagery of the region and the victims in traumatized scratches of scorched black, colored mostly with sickly yellows. You can see the outlines of joints and limbs emerge from the chaos, as if twitching and contorted in pain.

Are You There? by STAR TOO at The Fridge

I caught the late matinee of STAR TOO's most recent play last Saturday, at The Fridge. As with all of the Dubai experimental theater troupe's productions, the play was titled with a question, the sixth and current one being "Are You There?".

Before the play started, bookkeeper Tareq Ghosheh talked introduced the concept and individually-scripted/collectively-directed methodology of STAR TOO. This play was inspired by Jules Verne's  dystopian 1863 novel Paris in the Twentieth Century, which itself only got published in the late 20th century, and is considered to be a visionary piece of writing.

The play got off to a great start by taking a page from the novel and introducing the character Michel, played by Jamal Iqbal, in the first scene. Michel is ridiculed for studying the arts in a society that has been completely taken over by technology and commerce to the point where they are the only fields of work that are considered to have any  value. The story was told using minimal and/or symbolic props and costumes, as is the style of experimental theater. The audience also got to vote between an idealistic and realistic ending.

One of the scenes was a cryptic masked dance led by Shereen Saif, and another was a sort of build-a-machine act around a stuffed corpse doll, both of which were good.

The sequence where the actors here interacted over video comm with actors in Paris was, unfortunately, difficult to follow, due to the choppy quality of the connection, and the audio in general was not too great. Part of the "enslaved to technology" theme, perhaps?

The truth officer candidate's sequence was fairly interesting to watch, with its theme of extreme technological essentialism. Sarah Dufayard was good in this one, and I think Drazen Lucic made a sincere effort. Alexandra Vareno's rantologue near the end was also nice.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Alternative Rock Festival at The Music Room

I don't think I've seen The Music Room as packed as I did last Friday at Charged's Alternative Rock Festival. What a night!
Shaun Holton


Shaun Holton from Projected Twin and Manjeet (whose birthday it happened to be) from Red House kicked off the event with solo progressive and acoustic rock sets.

No delays in hitting the afterburners as EP-launching band AKB (Alpha Kenny Buddy outside official circles) sprayed hot metal all over the place. A mosh erupted in front of the stage, and there was just this immense energy both onstage and offstage.

POV kept the momentum going with the title track from Revolutionize the Revolutionary, Alien Ant Farm's rearrangement of Smooth Criminal, and more.

Chronicles of Khan was next, returning after a couple years with a rhythmic rock sound and monstrous instrumental finish.

Kicksound followed with hard rock.

Goddamn Electric was last but not least in the least, with superb instrumentals and vocals. Hope to see more of them in future.

Passion for Change at The Change Initiative

I spent a good part of last Friday evening at the Passion for Change event, held at the retail department store of the sustainability-oriented organization, The Change Initiative.

It's one of those places where you can find stuff you didn't know you needed until you saw it.

The event was held at the upper level, and featured a large display of local artists' works. The musical component consisted of a variety of acts, predominantly of the acoustic, folk and soft rock variety.

I got there on time to catch Ishan singing and playing songs from the mid-late 20th century. Apparently, he jams around JLT from time to time.

Vijit Malik from the Desert Ramblers played some great acoustic bluegrass/folk ballads.

Core 304 had some excellent instrumental harmony.

The penultimate band was Moonshine, playing classic rock.

Red House wound down with some especially strong work on the guitars.

And it ended just in time for the evening discount special at The Taste Initiative, where I had a delicious sherry on quinoa for dinner.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Punchline Comedy Club at Jumeirah Creekside Hotel

I did some exploring last Thursday, and decided to check out Punchline Comedy Club's foray into the Middle East. The club has had a presence in East and Southeast Asia and Australia for many years now, and it looks like a local someone thought to bring this stand-up show to our neighborhood. This is their second show in the Middle East, and their modus operandi shares a few features in common with their more locally-established niche competitor, The Laughter Factory; they have three stand-up performers per show touring different venues across the region, and a ticket that can be entered into a draw for tickets to a show in the next tour. One difference, though, is their dining tie-ins. And their attendee wristbands without adhesive surfaces that give you an unwanted depilation.

The first performer, a Canadian by the name of Paul Myrehaug, was okay. He had a few slow moments, , and his bits about the cougar experience and the well-fed daughter worked only marginally on me. Some risks did pay off; I found the joke about the morning after pill and post-shower sex hilarious, for example. Also, his endgame about the RJ ramp was played well.

The second performer, and Englishman named Rob Deering, claimed to be a "9" on the guitar. This is believable, given how he was able to rapidly segue into and out of sung jokes without missing a beat, and without compromising on his skilled use of the instrument. He used repetition and self-referential humor well; for example, the George Michael bit. His elastic face was also entertaining, and he used layering pedals on his playing, singing and beat-boxing to good effect.

Irishman Andrew Stanley did a good job working the audience up as the host for the night. His jocular jibes targeted at various nationalities in the audience were generally great, and he even took on the lone Emirati woman in the audience. He can definitely think fast on his feet, improvising up a very engaging host set.

Finally, I would like to commend the venue, Jumeirah Creekside Hotel, for having some good interior design. I just had to have a walk-around after the show to get a better look at the place.

Miranda Davidson Studios Actors Showcase 2013

Miranda Davidson Studios held its 2013 Actors Showcase last Wednesday at the Dubai Marine Beach Resort. This night was dedicated to the memory of local film pioneer Tim Smythe, who passed away last month, in honor of whom Davidson delivered a moving tribute speech backed by a video slideshow. The actors involved with the studio performed an assortment of film scenes, interspersed with talks by and chats with filmmakers and actors.

American Ambassador Michael H. Corbin made a surprise appearance, talking about how film is a significant export of his country, and how filmmakers are cultural ambassadors as a consequence.

The professional artists who showed up to speak about their work and the industry included actor and dancer Mayte Garcia (left, via video-conference link), Fadi Haddad, the director of Jordanian romantic comedy film When Monaliza Smiled, and Nawaf Al Janahi (right), the director of Emirati coming-of-age drama film Sea Shadow.

Halawa and Daswani

The first actor showcase scene, from "When a Man Loves a Woman", was alright, but could have been better if the male lead enunciated some of his lines more clearly. The acoustics of the venue did not help either. The second, from "The Power and the Glory", was also pretty good, and I was very impressed with Nesrin Sanad's monologue in third, "Nuts". The fourth, from "When Harry Met Sally" felt a little rushed at the climax (so to speak). The fifth and last scene, from "Primal Fear", starred Wajih Halawa and Rajeev Daswani. Halawa's transition between personalities was brilliantly executed, and so was Daswani's shift from dominant to acquiescent. It was a great choice for a dramatic final scene.

Taking a bow