Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dubai Drama Group stages Steven Berkoff's Metamorphosis at thejamjar

Dubai Drama Group's production of Metamorphosis premiered yesterday at thejamjarA Steven Berkoff adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis, it's a tight staging that runs about an uninterrupted hour in length, at a pace that swung between frenetic and placid.

Faraz Javed, Beariz Browne and Lucasta Cummings

Mostly stage right, the characters of Mr, Mrs and Greta Samsa locked horns or wrung hands about their insect problem. Lucasta Cummings as Mrs Samsa was my favorite among them; I felt a very convincing portrayal of maternal concern, confusion and inner torment from her.

Yasmin Altas, Daniel Wakefield and Hani Yakan

Mostly stage left, Yasmin Altas and Hani Yakan had minor speaking roles as a boarder and a chief clerk, respectively, but played very important parts as the drives and emotional state of Gregor Samsa. Gregor's dejection, loneliness and resignation as a dutiful workaholic, and later, a "bug with a heart", were portrayed brilliantly by Daniel Wakefield, who was able to do this in sometimes challenging positions. Combining his powerful monologues with the physical expressions of Yakan and Altas, the three made for a compelling and visually dominating Gregor.

Directors: Emma Kay and Aimée Hedley

Overall, I found it a fairly enjoyable play, with some interesting use of theatrical techniques. The stage area was bereft of walls or backdrops, and featured minimal props, relying mainly on movement and mime to imply the existence of rooms (and transitions among them) and objects. The cast also broke fourth wall to indicate shifts across time, and the available lighting was put to creative use. We see too little of this form of theatre in Dubai, so I hope there's more of it to come.

Monday, November 25, 2013

UAENSO vocal-piano star concert at Brighton College

The UAE National Symphony Orchestra organized a special vocal-piano concert today at Brighton College Abu Dhabi, featuring the actor-singer Gretchen Hewitt performing to the skilled key work of capital-based Ioannis Potamousis ("the other Yanni").

Ioannis Potamousis

The concert, in support of The Future Centre for Special Needs, and titled "Con Anima", included guest solo and choir performances, a breathtaking classic solo by Potamousis, some established opera pieces, and a number of Hewitt originals. I think the concert had been truncated somewhere, though; some portion of the official program seemed to be missing.

Gretchen Hewitt

While I attended primarily as a piano fan -- to see the acclaimed, award-winning Potamousis in action -- I was also much entertained by Hewitt's operatic acting and soprano. Putting them together made for a great onstage pair and an awesome concert.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Courtyard Playhouse inaugurated with first ever MENA Theatresports

The Courtyard Playhouse, Dubai's landmark community theater and studio space, has been a venue for rehearsals and workshops for months. Those of us who took part in these activities saw floors, ceilings, walls, partitions, seats, fittings, lights and flats appear, one by one, week on week, as artists and donors* contributed their time and money* towards putting the place together.

Don't it look swankayyy?

This weekend, the Playhouse finally opened its doors to the public with a double act, double show, double night theater event. Most aptly, this event happened to be the first ever Theatresports event in the MENA region, put on by the first ever recognized Theatresports member organization in the MENA region - Drama Dubai.

Why, yes, that is me on the left

I and six other live improv neophytes, followed by six of the more experienced troupe members, competed with each other in teams of three to four, hoping to win the audience's favor and the coveted shrub of glory (no, really, it was a shrub) with our improvised games and scene work. I was fortunate to be part of a great team, which, win or lose, made the experience as fun for me as I hope it was for the audience.

With our grand entrances and costumes, good-natured rivalry, and outrageous scenarios in mundane settings, we had ourselves a whale of a time.

So did the successive full or near-full houses of cheering, yelling, laughing and otherwise involved audience members, it would seem. Technically, almost everything went much smoother than I would have expected for a first-time run of back-to-back unscripted shows.

The rest of the cast during the techs

I'm so proud to have been a part of this; it was history in the making that we witnessed over the last couple of nights, and it's only the beginning.

* The Drama Dubai team has thrown herculean effort behind getting the space working well enough and looking good enough, starting from practically scratch, so patrons could enjoy the experience of a real theater in the heart of Al Quoz. Because of all the resources that went into making it look and feel good at the audience-facing end, there are still a few things to finish backstage, which is where we still need a little more financial assistance. Click here to see how you can help, and to see the neat rewards donors can receive.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

BOLDTalks Innovation 2013 at DUCTAC

BOLDtalks made its second specialized foray on 16 Nov, hosting a morning and afternoon of talks themed on innovation, held at DUCTAC.

The event began with Dubai SME's Alexander Mathew Williams talking about local challenges and cycles in innovation. From Williams' statistics-filled talk, a couple of points that stood out were obstacles faced in getting local universities -- many of which do not have R&D programs -- to foster innovation among their students, and local perceptions of mentoring as wasta-dealing rather than the provision of guidance. He also attempted to explain the fees levied on startups by the state as a sort of pre-earning taxation scheme; I'm not sure how many entrepreneurs would agree that is necessarily better than taxes on earnings.

Some of the other talks were about innovation cycles in the region, microfinance, regional fast food franchising, educational innovation, and branding. For me, three talks were particularly fascinating.

Bastian Schaefer is a designer from Airbus -- which was one of the sponsors -- but his talk was not a lot of PR spiel. He walked us through the innovation process in developing the airplane of the future, starting with demographic shifts, and why and how these matter. He presented an example of a lighter, computer-designed, 3D-printed crew rest bracket that they created, and concisely described how advances in technology will impact construction, seating, aesthetics and efficiency in the kind of aircraft they are developing.

I also liked Dr Alejandro Rios G.'s talk a lot, and not just because he is also from Masdar Institute. He described the food-water-energy nexus, the growth of aviation emissions growth, and talked about his research center's project to use seawater -- available in overwhelming abundance -- to farm marine life for human consumption, as well as grow specialized mangrove plants that can be used to produce biofuels. I have long wondered if something could be done using mangroves, and I was pleased to know that it's happening, and right here in the UAE.

Possibly the most inspiring talk that day was that of Hind Hobeika. Although she is developing a rather niche product -- albeit one related to her passion -- she captivated us with tale of a journey from inspiration to conception to prototyping to funding to manufacturing. Most importantly (from an entrepreneurial and innovation perspective, especially), she recounted both successes and failures, and provided specific anecdotes and observations from along the way, about team-building, investment, patenting, production, and challenges specific to the region. Only a tiny minority of us are training swimmers, but I'm sure she had everyone there sincerely and enthusiastically wishing for her success by the end of that talk.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Four plays Under One Umbrella by Resuscitation Theatre

For the past couple of months, I'd been looking forward to seeing how Resuscitation Theatre would implement the Saleh Karama scripts I had been reading with them over the summer. And this weekend, I finally saw those Arabic-language original plays premiere on stage, and in English - which is no small feat, considering that these plays are, for the most part, very metaphorical, and Arabic is often difficult to translate to English for even mundane purposes. I know, because I read all of them with the group, as we went over them, line by line, to refine the translation and find the best English equivalents. So, yes, I did go in knowing the plot for each play.

In fact, I had already seen One More Try on stage, in the same venue, in the summer. It was about the same this time, except with improved sound, and a markedly better performance by Prabhath Dhevindra. Betina had been re-cast as well, with Darcell Castillo adding a pleasantly fresh chemistry to the relationship between her character and Baya.

Sea Breeze, replete with allegorical lines and symbolic actions, must have been particularly difficult to adapt. I think it turned out very well, though, thanks to the directorial vision of Robert Liddington and whoever else was involved in production. It was very physical, with Sanoop Dinesh fitting well into his part. The use of props and colors was very creative; Dinesh's "healer jailer", interpreted as some kind of fabulous witch doctor, was a particularly brilliant touch.

From the reading sessions, my favorite script was Evening Chat, and I was not disappointed. Some of the lines did seem rushed and mechanically paced, but it was a good experience in sum. I especially liked Syed Sameer Ahmed's acting; he played the character of Sibran to perfection through all his character's transitions. The use of children's toys as physical symbols gesturing towards the past and the background of conflict was a good idea.

My expectations for Mobius were completely blown out of the water by director Zakaia Cvitanovich and the production team behind this interpretation. What I thought would be a dark, slow play, turned out to be an extravaganza of music, world dance, inflatable animal wrestling, and a human maypole. Splitting the character of Rima into five, each with a different actor, was definitely worth the additional cast management and blocking entailed by this idea. A surprise winner of a production is what it was.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Melisa Le Rue and Samvel Gasparyan jazz up Sorso at The Ritz

Jazz in Abu Dhabi is a rare find. So when you do find it, it's well worth a night out.

The Ritz-Carlton here is a massive gated complex on the island side of Maqta, with ample parking. Easy to locate, though a bit far from the heart of the city. I would strongly advise approaching from Mussafah Bridge, if you don't want to have to drive around in circles.

I'm digging its Sorso bar for the bold visual appeal and comfort. Country club charm meets modern baroque, colored in red, black and metallic grey. Drinks are very attractively priced too, and the cozy ambiance is great for chinwag.

And, of course, jazz. Samvel Gasparyan, who has collaborated with some of the more well-known acts in Dubai's jazz scene, was at his nord+KORG setup, backing Melisa Le Rue's vocals with delightful strains of piano and organ. It was nice to hear jazz and soul, standard and non-standard, from Melisa; her singing, while decidedly versatile, is very well-suited to these genres, and it's plain to see that she enjoys singing them.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Video Mapping with VJZARIA at Maraya Art Centre

Edgar Salmen, known to his Movida patrons as VJ Edmosh, presented about a dozen attendees with his extensive experience in video mapping in a demo workshop at Maraya Art Centre today. Edmosh, who founded and directs the VJZARIA group that specializes in this domain, has worked on a number of high-profile video mapping projects. This technology-heavy art form is great for clubs and EDM festivals, but has also made it to competitions and public art installations (including a scattered few in this region).

Remember this?

He started with a little history of video mapping, quickly moving on to a sequence of videos showcasing his work, including one at Sikka earlier this year. Far from being just an animated loop projected on an uneven target surface, video mapping requires careful environmental surveying, layout planning, surface mapping and computer graphics work, as Edmosh demonstrated with a sample project based on a picture of an antiquated building. He showed how the image is fitted to guidelines, divided into its component projection surfaces, and can have various effects and animations applied to it, all using specialized software and plug-ins.

Finally, he walked us through the mapping of a selection of random shapes stacked at the other end of the room. He showed us how to pick out and define shapes from a perspective, and play around with application of effects.

There were many, many audience questions - not surprising, given that this field is still growing in its range of tools and techniques. While we only covered static single-perspective video mapping (Maraya might be organizing a full hands-on workshop in future, for those interested), we also discussed some famous examples of multi-perspective and moving projection.

Getting medieval: a Wars of the Roses dinner

Yes, my first historical love will always be China (to which I recently paid culinary tribute). Hot on the heels of that experiment, I designed another themed meal based around one of my newer interests: medieval English history. Specifically, the Wars of the Roses, a period in which my interest had been further piqued after reading Philippa Gregory's The Red Queen last year.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of inconclusive battles and shifting alliances that saw control of the English crown swing back and forth between the two Plantagent cadet branches of Lancaster and York. The matter was finally settled when a somewhat distant Lancastrian claimant named Henry defeated and killed the last Yorkist king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth Field.

This battle happened to mark the effective end of the Wars of the Roses, the end of what is considered the medieval period of English history, AND the end of the Plantagenet dynasty, not to mention being the last time an English king would be killed in battle. Henry Tudor married a Yorkist lady, thus uniting the two houses and their emblems: red and white roses.

The number of parties involved provided plenty of culinary maneuvering room for my party of seven. To set the mood, I placed red and white roses decoratively, arranged for a sampling of English ales, and found some medieval English music online for playback.

The Reign of Lancaster

So, we began with the House of Lancaster, for whom things were apparently going pretty well after Henry Bolingbroke, grandson of Henry III, booted his cousin, Richard II, off the throne, and ascended as Henry IV. His son, Henry V, expanded English rule in France with a victorious campaign in the Hundred Years' War, succeeded bloodlessly by his son, Henry VI.

To celebrate the so-far-so-good Lancastrian reign, I whipped up some potted shrimp, a specialty of Lancashire. It's a pretty simple recipe, with about 630g defrosted and blotted shrimp lightly cooked in 125g butter that's been melted in a pan with a teaspoon of nutmeg, a big pinch each of paprika and ground ginger, and a half teaspoon of ground pepper.

The cooked shrimp are strained off into a bowl, after which the rest of the butter is poured on top as a seal, and left to cool. Served with toast, it makes a good starter. I came out well, although if I could do it again, I would have more thoroughly blotted the shrimp

The Rise of York

Unfortunately, Henry VI is pretty bad at both war and peace. When the military gains of his father in France were almost completely reversed by Joan of Arc, he loses his marbles and the Yorkist camp gains strength, first by installing a protector, and then by ousting him altogether in favor of a Yorkist prince, who took the throne as Edward IV.

To celebrate the new Yorkist overlords, I prepared something that is pretty much synonymous with their home: the famous Yorkshire pudding. This too is fairly simple. I beat 210g flour with 6 eggs, gradually adding 300ml milk, and a little salt and pepper. I poured the batter into the cups of a pre-heated greased tart tin, and let it bake at 230C for about 20 minutes, until the puddings had puffed up good.

But wait -- we can't have YP without a nice, savory gravy. That meant slowly cooking 2 medium thinly-sliced onions in 40g butter, until they became soft and translucent, then adding a tsp sugar and a tsp balsamic vinegar for a few more minutes' cooking.

Boiling after the addition of 750ml beef stock, I added a paste of 4 tsp cornflour in as much water, and let it boil and then simmer until it reduced to a thick gravy that I seasoned with a little salt and pepper. The puddings can be used as a fluffy cup on which to pour the gravy.

The Return of Lancaster

Eddie, however, does not like being a puppet of the Yorkist leaders, and tries to run his own show. That gets him in the bad books of some powerful people, who teach him a lesson by returning Henry VI to the throne.

To celebrate the return of the rightful king, I made a Lancashire standard: the hotpot.

To begin this oven stew, I browned 1350g stewing lamb chunks and 4 sliced lamb kidneys in butter, and cooked 3 medium chopped onions and 6 sliced carrots in some more butter until soft.

I stirred 40g flour, 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 6 small bay leaves and 750ml chicken stock into the carrots and onions, cooking for a few more minutes. Finally, I mixed the meat and vegetables in a large baking dish, topping with a kilogram of sliced potato brushed with butter, and baked this for two hours at 160C.

I turned up the heat to brown the again-buttered potatoes for about 10 minutes, before serving up this very hearty main course.

York is Back

Henry's second reign is cut short when Eddie marches back to England at the head of a fresh army, this time eliminating the Lancastrian king and his heir. His own heir, Edward V, is quickly deposed and disappeared by his one-time ally and famous (literary) equinophile, who ascends the throne as Richard III.

So, to celebrate the (ahem) REAL rightful rulers of England, I baked a fish pie in the style of Yorkshire.

To start, I placed 500g of white fish chunks (I used hammour) at the bottom of a buttered baking dish. Then, I fried 150g bacon in a deep pan, strained it off, and lightly fried 2 small sliced leeks and 1 chopped onion.

I placed the bacon on the fish, seasoning with salt and pepper, and then layered on the leek and onion. I poured in milk to just about cover the fish, and topped it all with 500g of grated, strained and blotted potato.

I dotted the potato layer with butter and baked this at 180C, serving the pie warm, with a now delightfully crispy and brown "rosti" top.

Pembroke Royalty

Pembroke? Wait, isn't that in Wales? Yeah ... kinda, sorta (Pembrokeshire is a heavily English part of Wales, actually). Henry Tudor derived his claim to the throne from his Lancastrian mother, Margaret Beaufort (aforementioned Red Queen), but his father was a Welshman of the Pembroke-based House of Tudor. So, when he killed Richard III at Bosworth Field and took the throne, it was the beginning of a new dynasty, and England's only dynasty of Welsh origin.

I managed to find only one thing typically Pembrokeshire: the Katt Pie. Yes, our dessert will contain meat.

The crust is a regular hot water pastry, made by gradually adding 235g melted butter and 200g boiling water to 600g flour to make a firm dough. I cooled and rolled out part of the pastry, and placed it in a pie tin. Next, I layered in the fillings: 300g each of seasoned minced lamb, raisins and brown sugar.

Topping it with a perforated lid of the rest of the rolled-out pastry, I baked this at 220C for about half an hour.

I wish I'd baked it earlier and cooled it more, but it was still petty good.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Kamal Musallam & Friends showcase Homemade in Rome at Tamanya Terrace

Dubai-based musician, composer and producer, Kamal Musallam, together with a multinational complement of jazz musicians and a flamenco dancer, continued with the launch tour of their new album Homemade in Rome today, playing against the gorgeous backdrop of the head of the Dubai Marina as seen from the Tamanya Terrace at Radisson Blu Media City.

The playlist centered on the album's fusion jazz with Arabic and Spanish influences, but included a little music from older albums. Kamal switched between the guitar and his trademark electric oud, backed by band members Israel Varela, Marcello Allulli and Daniele Cappucci playing jazz instruments. They were joined for a few numbers by flamenco dancer Karen Lugo, who provided both visual and auditory embellishments to the onstage music with her energetic synchronized dance and footwork. There was also an interlude with a percussion duel between her and Varela on the drums. Good music, good venue, good fun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

co.mmission #1 at DUCTAC Art Forum

DUCTAC launched the first (and apparently, urban-themed) installment of its co.mmission series in the Art Forum today. The featured artists of #1 were Dubai-based Vikram Divecha and Berlin-based Carla Mercedes Hihn, and the talk took place as an informal moderated chat with the two hosts, interspersed with audience Q&A.

Fresh from a residency in Istanbul, and with the support of the local Goethe Institute, Hihn has spent her Dubai residency pasting photographs from the city in a mixed media work on plexiglass, extending them with see-through painting. During the talk, she described some of her similar past work, and talked about the unique experience of city life as an artist-in-residence in Dubai.

I was especially keen to hear what Divecha had to say, having seen the fabricated sections of road from his Urban Epidermis exhibition in Traffic last year. He described what he had to go through in order to make the works for that exhibition, and also talked about a fascinating installation he had created this year by transplanting bricks from a section of a major bus terminal to an historical courtyard located minutes away. Apparently, it's still there - which is a good thing, because I seem to have missed it during Sikka.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

This theatre ain't gonna finish itself

We talk a lot about how Dubai needs to have this or that. We want to "do something", until we realize what that entails. But what if "doing something" was neatly packaged and presented to you with someone else taking care of the paperwork and logistics? Drama Dubai is offering just such an opportunity, by opening their new community theater, The Courtyard Playhouse, to crowd-funding on the Aflamnah platform.

I walked out of the venue of their Desert Monologues course showcase last night, impressed once again by how they mold and focus the stage skills of their course attendees, as they did with me almost two years ago. I try to attend this showcase every season, because I know this is one of the major founts/magnets of talent in local performing arts, and that, at the very least, I will be blown away by what many of these everyday people can do under stage lights.

As confirmed by the diverse cast on stage last night, Drama Dubai has been accepting of all kinds of people, always willing to work hard with those willing to work with them, while at the same time holding themselves and those they train to high standards. From the improv arc I have been following under their guidance since over a year ago, I know that they are professionals who take themselves absolutely seriously: supplementing our rehearsals with visits by experienced guest performers, sharing books, videos and other material with us, and getting our troupe recognition from Theatresports International (making us, by the way, the only such troupe in the MENA region).

And it's not even the theater itself that needs building; they and their partners have already invested heavily in the completion of the actual theater close to the heart of the Al Quoz arts district, complete with plush bleacher seating, a tech booth, and ample stage space. They just need help with the finishing touches: lights, changing rooms and washrooms. As per the aforementioned high standards, Drama Dubai has been working patiently and tirelessly to put everything together just right. They want this to look like the real deal, and so should we, because this will benefit all theater-lovers in the country. They are even offering seat naming rights, tickets, courses, and other generous rewards for donors.

If you have the means, and you love the arts, there is no excuse. Visit and throw in your support now.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hunger group art exhibition at DUCTAC

Just in time for Halloween, the DUCTAC Gallery of Light's week-long Hunger exhibition features the works of a dozen artists, along themes of the unnerving and the macabre. A significant number of them are videos, with one set of works, by Angie Abbas, using the not-oft-seen medium of bone.

A series I found especially worth checking out are the illustrations of Sasan Saidi, depicting, in red and black, dark visions of a circus grotesque.

Jalal Luqman's haunting portrayals of raw human emotion are also very intriguing to see.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Swing music and dance nite at The Magazine Shop DMC

Cafe culture and workspace nomads of Dubai will feel at home in the Magazine Shop, a charming little magazine-and-coffee spot located at the southern edge of the Pearl in Media City. It features the same Panton chairs as did the erstwhile Shelter, and tables very similar to those seen at The Archive. The standard coffee menu is extended with some interesting, but not too exotic, concoctions, helpfully illustrated in a graphics panel on the front of the till desk. Brackets cradling several dozens of magazines line two of the walls.

Tonight was Swing Night, with hours of live swing music performances and jamming by a diverse host of musicians. Plenty of standards from the golden age of swing made the playlist, enthusiastically performed by The Swingin' Aces and their ever-animated bassist, Lakshmi Ramirez.

Having opened with a swing gig two months ago, and due to host another swing night on the 19th at their DIFC branch, The Magazine Shop seems to be a patron of this genre, which is good news for its fans. Dancers of Dubai-based dance group Lindy-hop were also on hand to complete the Roaring Twenties ambiance, mixing and matching partners, and kicking, spinning and jiving for as long as there was music.