Saturday, April 26, 2014

BreakTHrough #2 a performance art smorgasbord

I went to The Courtyard Playhouse this weekend to check out the second BreakTHrough grassroots mixed arts showcase. The event not only had performers from across diverse arts onstage, it also included audience Q&A after each performance.

(L-R) Sheika Ritualo; Alwyn Fernandes; Nikhil Uzgare

Opening the first half, teenage pianist and singer Sheika Ritualo wowed us with a powerful performance of a locally-composed piano ballad. Rock band Point of View's lead vocalist Nikhil Uzgare collaborated with prolific guitarist Alwyn Fernandes to open the second half with an acoustic performance of three songs, including one in Hindi.

Other acts that evening included the poetry of Frank Dullaghan, and a synced dance by Anaz Abdul Azeez and Siva Yogan. Another great musical act closed the event: classically-trained Marimba player/promoter Mishel Tawfik's passionate and animated performance on the instrument.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Raw Theatre presents Billy Bishop Goes to War

Relatively new-in-town theatre group, Raw, staged the musical "one man play", Billy Bishop Goes to War, this weekend at The Fridge. I absolutely loved it: great acting, great production, and great music.

The two acts of the play add up to about one and a half hours, during which seasoned British stage actor, James Gaddas, plays a Canadian air force veteran, the titular Billy Bishop, who narrates the story of how he came to be a star fighter pilot in World War I. This story is spellbinding, with many moments of poignancy and hilarity, told with poetic lucidity and detail. It was a time when air combat was still very new, so it's also a nice little historical trip into the golden age of this dimension of warfare.

Gaddas as Billy Bishop did a convincing Canadian accent, and jumped in and out of several roles -- across ages and genders, including voice and mannerisms -- without missing a beat. The pianist supporting him also did a great job supplying timely background music and sound effects, as well as singing in support. The music was very era-appropriate, and Gaddas' singing (including while playing other roles) was excellent. The minimal set and warm lighting were perfect too.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sarah Geronimo concert at du Forum

It's rare for me to be in Abu Dhabi on a Thursday night, but Filipino pop star Sarah Geronimo's "Perfect 10" tour, celebrating her 10 years in showbiz, came to Abu Dhabi's Yas Island this weekend.

It took me an extra 20 minutes to get the the venue (fortunately budgeted for). Let's just say I will never again confuse du Forum with du Arena.

It was my first time at du Forum (clearly), which is a generally nice venue: an ample stage in a huge air-conditioned tent, with enough room for large screens at the sides. Lighting and sound at the concert were great too -- no live support music, but the playback was executed well.

The concert was about two and a half hours long -- not all of it performances, as there were quite a few videos played about her career history. Sarah G's set covered a wide range of pop -- mostly in English, but with a few Filipino songs here and there. She sang a couple of Celine Dion covers, as well as Radiohead, and "Let It Go" from Disney's Frozen. She also did duets with Mark Bautista and James Reid, who threw in some great solos while she was between performances. Near the end, she danced a Micheal Jackson tribute (apparently one of her primary inspirational figures), and closed with a fast Rihanna number backed by the G-Force dancers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Trojan Women by Resuscitation Theatre

Abu Dhabi theatre group Resuscitation Theatre kept up the tradition of creative adaptation in the city's theatre scene, bringing Euripides' classic Greek tragedy The Trojan Women to the National Theatre stage as Trojan Women: A Very Moving Tale.

The play, which ran for about an hour, started off with a very action-filled and dynamic opening segment depicting the sack of Troy, followed by scenes in which the Trojan women lament and negotiate their fate as the Achaeans pick them off one by one, for slavery or death. The script was transposed into modern times, with the Achaeans wearing Western boot camp military uniforms and dog tags, and the Trojan women wearing paint-splattered, torn clothes. Props, however, still connected with the epic era.

Trojan Women included a significant amount of excellent physical theatre and dance -- par for the course in a Resuscitation Theatre play, but featuring choreographic collaboration with Dubai-based experimental theatre group Loom Ensemble this time around. There were a few singing segments, which I thought were handled very well too. Background music, however, made it difficult to hear some actors' lines from a distance if one was seated closer to a speaker; perhaps more projection was required if an actor is at stage extremes when background music is playing.

It was a job well done by all cast members with the singing and dancing; it can't have been easy to get what must have been varying amounts of experience to the level where everyone can hold their own in a synchronized dance and harmonized song. Acting-wise, I liked Felicia Corral's physical and fiercely expressive Cassandra, as well as Samah Konia's performance as a weary and pragmatic Hecuba. Aditya Vikram Jha did well as Talthybius, and Daughters of Troy, Safia and Sarah Al Mansouri, were impressive for child actors.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Freshly Ground Sounds EP release at The Archive

Congratulations to the fledgling acoustic music initiative, Freshly Ground Sounds, which released its first collaborative EP in an extended evening of live performances. The evening weather was still pleasant, and an audience -- rather large for a weekday night -- gathered on the Safa Park grass behind The Archive to listen to some of the up-and-coming musicians play and sing.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A4 Space unfolds in Al Serkal

Al Serkal Avenue's A4 Space officially opened its doors on Monday with a live music performance by Hamdan al Abri, and milling throngs of have-a-lookers, bringing to the compound and the neighborhood a much-needed replacement for Shelter. With a cafe, a community library, a store, and rather large gallery and screening halls (the latter with stepped rows of beanbags), it also sort of fills in the void left by the old Pavilion. The space's design is neat, too; a platform constructed halfway into the front section, with another level of catwalk overlooking it, and little reading nooks complementing the desk space.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jankura-Roberts-West jazz organ trio

This past season has set a new gem into Dubai's live music scene: a jazz organ trio. Saxophonist Matt West, drummer Eric Roberts and (of course) organist Andrew Jankura comprise the group that brings the Hammond jammin' to the city -- twice a week, to boot.

At Jazz@PizzaExpress JLT

The trio normally play at Jazz@PizzaExpress in JLT with a vocalist, but I caught them on a night without one; Roberts contributed vocals for few songs, though, while exhibiting laudable drumming skill. Jankura's Hammond jazz was rich and intense, especially in the second set, complemented well by West's saxophone. They played a bunch of full-length organ jazz tunes that took me back to a wintry Chicago, while mixing in a few out-genre numbers for variety.

At Blue Bar DWTC

For those who want something bluer, cozier and more casual, they also bringing jazz back into Novotel DWTC's Blue Bar in a late Saturday night gig (about 10:30pm).

Chocolate chicken and herbaceous falafel

Food-wise, this week had me sample some of the new, as well as re-sample some of the old.

The day I got back from China, I went to Cactus Cantina at Wafi Pyramids to celebrate a birthday. A lot of the menu is indeed the popular type of Mexican cuisine -- quesadilla, enchilada and the like -- but I was hankering for something to take me back to that winter holiday in the Yucatan. This urge was satiated when I tucked into the one truly Mayanesque item on the menu: pollo en mole poblano, the delicious Chicken with (non-sweetened) Chocolate Sauce. Oh, and they have margarita pitchers too.

At the end of the week, I took a couple of friends down to my old 'hood in Deira, to what many (certainly the numerous friends and relatives I have brought down there) agree is the best falafel place in Dubai: Sultan Dubai. And it's not just the melt-in-the-mouth herb-filled falafel that rules here, because the liver, qudsiya, ful and shawarma are amazing too. Seating is outdoors-only, so the cooler months are better for this place. Service is also a bit sparse, so you may have to pop in and out of the counter/serving area to grab cutlery (scooping directly out of common bowls is apparently the norm) or make/track orders. But the aforementioned amazing falafel and other items, along with the unpolished Old Dubai atmosphere of the place, totally make it worth the few challenges.

Wild Garden blooms at XVA

Wild Garden, a month-long exhibition curated by Morteza Zahedi, displays the very interesting works of three artists at the XVA Gallery, part of the XVA Art Hotel at the Bastakiya. I had a look around at the vernissage on April 19th.

Salim Karami's drawings stand out for the color combinations and the way the artist fills the paper space with the floral forms. The thickly-packed lines of colored pen on paper result in a texture that resembles embroidery from a distance, and the thin white spaces left between the strokes give the trunks and branches a flowing, growing, organic look.

The bird motif appears frequently in Hasan Hazer Moshar's mixed media sculptural array. The small figurines of humans standing erect, birds (especially owls), and human-bird creatures bring to mind ancient Greek statuary of palladia, Athena iconography, and harpies.

Davood Koochaki's penciled figures stare hypnotically out from the cards, appearing bestially hirsute and muscled thanks to the coarse line fill, like a draft of a Studio Ghibli character.

On till May 22nd

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Punch poetry open mic at BookMunch

Zeina Hashem Beck

Punch, the newest group to appear on the country's burgeoning spoken word scene, returned to BookMunch for a second open mic on Thursday. BookMunch had already served as a venue for a few poetry reading events since many months ago; it was much more densely packed this time than at the last poetry event I attended there, especially for a Thursday night.

Some of my favorite performances:
(L-R)  Hiba Rasheed; Danabelle Gutierrez; George Mitton

Organizer and emcee Zeina Hashem Beck introduced the event, and got the proceedings underway with recitations by a few established poets (including herself, and her lovely poem "Dance"), before handing the mic to the sign-ups - a mosaic of poets drawn from diverse nationalities, each performing their just-as-diverse pieces in under three minutes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Gypsy Swing Project Paris-Dubai CD release concert

I have been a fan of The Gypsy Swing Project ever since I discovered their winter 2013 gig at Icho. The project, which started with gypsy guitar player Alexandre Valls and bassist Lakshmi Ramirez, later joined by guitarist Samouche and then drummer Jean-Paul Wahi, brought to me the sound of real foot-tapping gypsy jazz (to which I had then recently been introduced), with evident passion for this style of music.

My curiosity about what they were up to of late (I had only seen them perform at The Market of Everything and Fete de la Musique since that season) was recently answered when I received an invitation to their album release concert at Alliance Francaise. The album, entitled Paris-Dubai, and produced by the Kamal Musallam Arts Contracting label, includes over a dozen covers and reinterpretations in the tradition of the original Manouche gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt.

The concert itself, held in the AF auditorium, was thoroughly enjoyable, with the project quartet playing nearly all the tracks from the album, each to thunderous applause from the audience. Beginning with the upbeat "Cesar Swing" and a gypsy take on "La Vie en Rose", they powered through their track list with unwavering energy, playing some more mellow compositions among more peppy numbers that got many bopping and clapping to the rhythm. A few of them featured configurations or solos that showcased the unique bass and drum styles of Lakshmi and Jean-Paul, respectively, and the gypsy guitar skills of Alexandre and Samouche. The set reached its peak with the very lively "Sweet Georgia Brown", and the encore -- a true-blue Django -- sealed a great night of gypsy jazz.