Friday, May 30, 2014

War of the Words at Cafe Scientifique

May 2014's Cafe Scientifique Dubai, held at Biorganic in TECOM, saw one of the biggest turnouts in the series' history. An audience spanning diverse age groups, genders and professions stood around, sat on chairs, or sat on the floor, to hear and talk about a topic that captivates most any inquiring mind: space exploration. In particular, planned Martian exploration through the Mars One mission.

The program commenced with opening addresses on Cafe Sci and the background of the mission by founders Rohan Roberts (left) and Raya Bidshahri (right) -- to the latter of whom we are bidding farewell, as she leaves for university abroad.

A bit of light entertainment with bits of philosophy and ethics was up next, provided by Adam Griffin (top) and Chris McDermott (bottom) locking oratorical horns in a debate on whether humans should go on a one-way trip to colonize Mars. With a show of hands, McDermott's argument against the motion seemed to have beat Griffin's argument for it -- much to my surprise.

Closing the event was Dubai resident Mikolaj Zielinski, who is on Mars One's shortlist for a future lifetime mission to land and stay on the red planet. He provided the audience with further information about the mission, including the challenges Mars explorers would face, and possible solutions. Clearly, he is not deterred at all by the outcome of the debate.

EDIT: The Cafe Sci team got Spectrum 7 TV on board to tape the event. Here's what they produced:

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dale Nichols piano concert at The Fridge

As a piano music fan, I could not miss The Fridge's latest Fridge Concert Series concert, starring pianist and composer Dale Nichols. For about an hour, Nichols played several compositions on The Fridge's stage, including "Adrift" and "Vagabond's Revenge", and most memorably, "Dreams from a Kitchen Window" and "The Sea".

His music is not typical piano concert fare; it has been described as "cinematic", and does seem to lend itself well to inclusion in soundtracks. Which is to say that it is a very mood-evoking music, incorporating themes of nature and the weather, as Nichols mentioned during his introductions. His composition also eschews repetitive motifs, and his music is distinctively dynamic, changing direction subtly ever so often.

His EP, In Full Color, includes four lovely tracks, including the haunting "October", and the calming, melodic "Blossom", with its background of nature sounds.

Thank you for your cooperation

Gallery Isabelle van den Eynde's latest exhibition, Thank You for Your Cooperation, applies bold colors and words to a urban facade. Par for the course with Turkish artist duo :mentalKLINIK, who have been known to make resourceful and novel use of modern materials. The works on glass are especially striking.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

From Page to Stage poetry workshop performance

(clockwise from top left) Zeina Hashem Beck; Frank Dullaghan; Marie Dullaghan; Rosine Saad; Lara Bogdanovic

Dubai-based poet and PUNCH founder, Zeina Hashem Beck, concluded her poetry workshop at The Courtyard Playhouse with a showcase performance at the venue. The small but enthusiastic class started with a group performance of Thomas Lux's Render Render and their own responses to it, followed by individual recitals ranging from witty observational to somber emotional. Another Dubai-based poet, Frank Dullaghan, headlined the event with readings of his own works, and Beck's love poem closed the event on a saccharine note.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blazing a theatrical trail with Draupadi

In case anyone was wondering about the week of social AWOL that preceded it, I had been immersed in this year's big theatre project: Draupadi - The Voice of Dignity. Indeed the largest production in which I have ever been involved, it was also the furthest away from my general idea of the kind of theatre in which I would be involved: music, dance, physical theatre, body paint, bodysuits, etc. Having not been an audience member myself, I can only comment on the experience of being stage-side.

Firstly, it was a huge privilege performing at the capacious and opulent Madinat Theatre. These seats would soon be packed through, and the Indian Consul General would attend one of our shows. The second show's audience was more audibly responsive than that of the first show, but I gathered that both proffered favorable reviews.

Us statues with designer and graphic artist Nivi Saha

Our makeup artists and costume designers/tailors did a fantastic job with the body paint, body suits and costumes. Especially with stage lighting, I was taken aback at just how convincing my fellow statues appeared.

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

Having to be on stage about 90% of the time, we spent most of the time on the yajna platform in stillness (but changing poses from time to time), occasionally breaking off or coordinating to act out short background scenes or be human props. Given the diversity in backgrounds and physiques of the statues, it must have been interesting to watch how each of us executed our parts (being fairly well-versed in the Mahabharata, I integrated imagery from the ongoing story into my free poses)

Classical Indian dance

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

The play told the story of Draupadi using both dialogue and dance theatre, focusing on her birth, her betrothal contest and marriage to all five Pandava brothers, her humiliation in the Kaurava court, and the death of her sons, the Upapandavas, in the legendary India-wide Mahabharata war. It was illustrated with spellbinding classical Indian and contemporary dance by local troupes, Tapasya and Loom Ensemble, as well as Third Half Theatre's staging of segments of a philosophical discussion between a modern-day Krishna and Krishnaa (one of Draupadi's epithets).

Although I was disappointed that the classical dancers did not wear more traditional costumes, it was a worthy sacrifice in the cause of quick costume changes, which were required in order to play different roles in different scenes. I was impressed by how, despite having to perform complex, coordinated dance sequences, the classical dancers also did a great job with acting. The show culminated in a wonderful final scene of both sets of actors/dancers performing onstage together as the ancient and modern pairing of Krishna and Draupadi.

(photo credit: Sarah Arfan Photgraphy)

And not in the least, the delightful classical/modern fusion music and singing by the Malhaar Choir, combined with Nivi Saha's glorious graphical artworks of scenes and motifs from the epic, gave a thoroughly inspiring sound and look to the production. It was hard to stay still with such great music playing right next to me, and to not move my head to watch the audio-visuals and dance. I am just so proud and honored to have been trusted with a role in this ginormous endeavor.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Draupadi: A fiery woman in a crowded theater

Being offered a part in this project came as a bit of a surprise. But knowing that Draupadi - The Voice of Dignity involved the Malhaar Choir, Loom Ensemble, and Third Half Theatre, it was not hard to say "yes". It also helped that I was several weeks into a Mahabharata mythos geek trip.

Although I, as a cast member, repeatedly witness their performances, the choir has me rapt each time we do a run-through. The instrumental array features Indian classical music instruments together with electric guitar, synth keyboard and cajon, producing hypnotic music that straddles West and East. The singing is rousing and spellbinding (a couple have become the earworms of the month), and the dancers make their well-practiced skill seem almost effortless in mesmerizing choreography; listening to the choir and watching the dance makes the countless hours of rehearsal feel not as long.

Thanks to Third Half Theatre and Loom Ensemble, these song, music and dance segments are interspersed and framed with an English-scripted philosophical/magical story that references the epic, along with contemporary dance and physical theatre.

As for my role, I don't want to give away details, except that watching fidgety me hold still for minutes at a time is in itself a spectacle. I have never done anything in this particular style of theatre, but we have a supportive and enthusiastic team. Therefore, I have high expectations of a grand performance, especially extrapolating what I have glimpsed of the production aspects.

The play stages on May 23rd/Fri and 24th/Sat, 7:30pm, at Madinat Theatre. There are a few tickets still on sale, and they can be purchased at or at the Madinat Theatre's offline box office.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Heart and Soul of Al Qasr

Their genre is not what I typically patronize, but having since long read good reviews of Heart and Soul in particular, I popped into Koubba Bar in Madinat Jumeirah's Al Qasr hotel late on Thursday night to have a listen.

Shanice Michaels does indeed have a pleasant and versatile voice, and included a fair bit of improvisation to add some individuality to the songs she sang. She and Lorendo Brown mainly did covers of popular music to playback instrumentals and sharp guitar playing by Brown. I was not too fond of the dance pop covers (maybe downbeat them a little?), but the rest was a great musical journey through the pop hits, especially the ones from the late 20th century.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A mystery fort and a quick bite in Muteena

An evening errand took me deep into the bowels of Deira this week. I figured that since I had a couple of hours to pass, I might as well take a walk around.

On my way back, I came across this fort tower on Omar bin al Khattab road, sitting between Muteena and Rasheed streets. I had passed this construction once before, many years ago, but at night. A nice little park has been built around it, but I could find no plaque or nav info telling me what exactly it is.

It's a few stories tall, and would have towered over contemporaneous housing, so I guess it would have been used by the local security force to watch for raiders, fires or disorder.

Back when I lived here, I used to love coming to Muteena street for a walk in the park and a snack at one of the many eateries that line the street. The park between the roads is wide enough for a fair bit of landscaping and a winding path for jogging or cycling among the numerous palm trees. It runs the entire length of the street, and sees plenty of footfall. A huge and diverse selection of restaurants also lines the street on either side, including some great Pakistani and Persian places.

And just as I was looking for a quick bite before heading back, I come across this place to stop for a chaat and chai.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Star TOO prototypes Why Cross

This year, local experimental theatre troupe Star TOO is extending experimentation to the development process, staging a preview run of its latest production, Why Cross, aiming to invite and discuss feedback from audience members.

The shows were staged in a warehouse in Al Quoz, within a "majlis" of fabric hung from scaffolding -- a setup reminiscent of that used by Theater Mitu in Odyssey last year -- with audience members seated around the corners.

The play began with a little build-an-object game involving audience members. A series of scenes ensued, each framed in different mythological, historical and contemporary contexts, to address different aspects of the character of Lilith, the original rebel.

The actors used a number of interesting techniques of motion and blocking in this play; memorable instances included the tree, the painting/un-painting (left), and Socrates' trial (right). It was also an audio-visually spectacular experience, thanks to good use of sound and projection, and especially the brilliant implementation and manipulation of lighting.

After the curtain call and awards, we sat ourselves in a circle outside for a not-so-little feedback session.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Emirates Jazz Collective plays at Saadiyat beach

Finding out, with barely a day's notice, that Monte Carlo Beach Club Abu Dhabi has a jazz night on the first Wednesday of every month fortunately coincided with a planned overnight stay in the city. That pretty much set the night's plans in stone.

The club, located near the northern tip of Saadiyat Island, hosts the jazz night at the Sea Lounge, on an outdoor stage that has the beach itself as a backdrop. While the weather's still pleasant, the outdoor portion is much preferable to the indoor seating. The selection of beers and spirits is good, but the wines (at least the white wines) left much to be desired. It's a good idea to book in advance, especially for the outdoor seats -- the place was quite busy when we got there.

More luck: it turned out to be a surprise opportunity to attend a performance by UAE-based jazz band, the Emirates Jazz Collective. That night's quartet configuration of the band, comprised of bassist Lakshmi Ramirez, saxophonist Artur Grigoryan, pianist Artie Poghosyan and drummer Douglas Caskie, played mainly upbeat, swinging jazz tunes, lending the place a very lively mood for the night, with some even taking to the dance floor. The artists for jazz night are booked ad hoc, so they may not necessarily play there next jazz night; given their performance that night, though, I certainly hope they do.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dr K.R. Sreenivasan on our shuddering sun

Dr K.R. Sreenivasan of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering today presented on solar turbulence and helioseismology in the fascinating NYU Abu Dhabi public talk "Tempest in the Sun". I got in quite late because of crash traffic along the way, but I arrived by the time he started talking about deep convection and Erika Böhm-Vitense's mixed length theory. He then explained his work on using observations of ripples bouncing around the solar mass to peer into the sun's internal dynamics, and how differences in the expecting timing of waves indicate the underlying flow rate in the photo-opaque, but acoustically resonant sun.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Local music shines at Sheraton Open Mic

Sheraton Open Mic is set among the palms in the large alfresco bar, B-Lounge, of one of Abu Dhabi's oldest and most iconic hotels. I only just found out about it, but it has been going on for many months now (first Saturday of each, usually), and I was fortunate to have found out about it just before they suspend for the summer, to continue in September.


The weather was still generally pleasant, although we were interrupted momentarily by a freak one-minute burst of rain. The menu is limited as far as eatables are concerned, but there's a good bar, and the seating -- which includes amphitheater steps at the back -- is very comfortable. The whole place has a very relaxed atmosphere. A large number of people turned up to support the local artists, so there was plenty of energy at the venue.

(L-R) Larry and Max Langs; Shannon

I got there in time to hear the amazing father-son duo of Larry Langs and his seven-year-old son, Max. Langs sang a few rock songs while playing the guitar, while Max did a pretty impressive job at the drums for someone so young. They were followed by Shannon, who played acoustic guitar and sang some ballad pop covers, as well as a song that she herself wrote. A vintage vocal duo, Maxine and Nour, sang acapella next, including covers of "Hit the Road, Jack" and "Wrecking Ball". For this kind of music, though, it would be much better if they used a supporting instrumental track, or even another singer doing instrumentals vocally.

(clockwise from top left) DaisyGrim; Behold the Locus; Sound Block; Physical Graffiti

Next up was a sequence of some rather prolific bands from Dubai and Abu Dhabi. First, DaisyGrim's alt rock performance -- in which they also jammed with a couple of guest artists -- followed by rock/pop band Behold the Locus' great sound and their talented lead singer. Physical Graffiti played their folk music next, and Sound Block mixed things up with a little metal.

BlueZero (I think that's how it's spelled)

A cajon-guitar duo, BlueZero (sp?), closed the (by now, nearly 4-hour-long) event with versatile use of their instruments for reggae and blues rock.

10th birthday of WARPED celebrated with Monoloc

Monoloc doing this thing

WARPED, one of Dubai's oldest electronic music institutions, celebrated 10 years (and that's a lot in Dubai years) of powering the city's techno scene, in an all-evening-all-night party at underground haven Casa Latina this weekend. A back-to-back lineup of local genre heavyweights led into a finale set by visiting German techno star Monoloc. All stops seemed to have been pulled to set up this one, and the mood was high all night. Happy birthday, WARPED.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mime and dance in Mirror for the Soul

It's been a week of theatrical discoveries: first, Raw Theatre, and now, Alterum Theatre. Alterum seems to be of Russian origin, and primarily focused on dance, which they performed as a philosophical drama. Instead of what usually comes to mind when one hears of a Russian dance performance, though, this was a thoroughly contemporary show, comprised of mime, physical theatre, and brilliantly-choreographed, expertly-timed dance sequences derived from street/BBoy styles. In terms of design, it was also visually a huge treat all around, and I loved the steampunk masks and mime makeup, as well as the vintage costumes.

Serving Ceylon: Cooking Sri Lankan

My 2010 Sri Lanka trip was my first vacation that was not planned as an aside. It was also my first and only vacation with my parents; as a result, I did not indulge in as much culinary adventurism as I'd have liked. For that reason, and mainly because I always try to pay culinary tribute to the places to which I have traveled, I selected Sri Lankan for my latest themed meal project.

I embellished up my centerpieces with fragrant pandan leaves (or rampe, used a lot in Sri Lankan cooking, along with coconut milk, methi/fenugreek, and curry leaves) in preparation for my party of 10. Ingredients are fairly easy to find in the Asian-oriented supermarkets; I got the pandan and plantains at LuLu Hypermarket, and the raw mango and coconut milk from the Filipino section at West Zone (they have different cans for savory and dessert foods), although LuLu turned out to have them too.

The bed for each savory course was the Sri Lankan rice dish called kiri bath. This is basically rice cooked in coconut milk. I prepared it by washing and then cooking on medium about 1.2 kg of matta rice (a brown variety from South India) with 8 cups of water and a couple of pinches of salt. When the water was almost gone, I added 750ml of coconut milk and continued cooking on low until the milk could no longer be pressed out and the rice had become porridge-like. I then transferred the rice into a serving vessel, a couple of ladles at a time, patting down and cooling each layer.

After naturally losing some more moisture, it set into a thick cake that was then cut up into slabs for serving, rendering deliciously creamy any curry mixed into it.

The first curry in the lineup was the Sri Lankan plantain curry. I could not find the original ash plantain (alu kesel), so I bought 14 small Omani green plantains. Unlike dessert bananas/plantains, green plantains are not sweet to taste, and have a potato-like texture when cooked. I scored their skins so I could peel them without wrecking them, and then cut thick slices that I soaked for 15 minutes in 3 cups of water, a teaspoon each of turmeric and salt, and the juice of a lime. After draining the liquid, I then baked the slices at 200C for about 15 minutes, and cooled them. This lets them absorb the spiced juices and coconut milk in which they will later be cooked.

For the curry base, I fried a medium chopped onion, 3 sliced green chiles, a teaspoon of fenugreek/methi seeds, 20 curry leaves, 5 pandan leaves (probably not a good idea to have cut those up into such small strips, as I had to fish them all out later), a half teaspoon of turmeric, 2 teaspoons of curry powder, a dash of salt, and 3 small sticks of cinnamon. Once the onions had softened, I added a cup of water and simmered for 5 minutes, adding the plantain slices for another 5 minutes of simmering, finally followed by 400 ml of coconut milk. I let this cook on low heat until the liquid had mostly evaporated, leaving a creamy sauce, out of which I had to pick dozens of small pandan strips. Bigger strips next time.

Served hot, this was just heavenly: rich, creamy, sweetish and savory.

Next, more fruit, in the form of the Sri Lankan mango curry amba maluwa. This time, raw (green) mango -- again, sour and hard, unlike its dessert counterpart. I got about a kilo, removed the seeds, and cut them into chunks. I fried three sliced onions, 5 chopped cloves of garlic, and about 6 pandan leaves (this time, large strips) until the onion softened a little, then added 10 cloves, 5 cracked pods of cardamom, and 4 medium sticks of cinnamon for a little more cooking.

I then added the mango and 5 tsp of chile powder, 4 tsp of roasted curry powder, and 2 tsp turmeric powder, stirring the mango around in everything. Finally, I added a cup of water, cooking on medium for 10 more minutes, adding 125ml coconut milk, a dash of salt and 3 tsp jaggery (can use sugar too) to cook until the mango became softened, and the smaller bits mashed into the curry.

A lovely tangy-savory-sweet taste, and another hit at the table.

Finally, Sri Lankan Red Chicken Curry. I fried two tbsp chopped ginger, 5 sliced green chiles, and 3 chopped cloves of garlic for a minute, followed by a handful of curry leaves for another minute of frying, then 3 sliced onions for frying until they became golden brown. I then added 2 tsp turmeric powder, 5 tsp roasted curry powder, 3 tsp red chile powder, and a dash of salt, mixing for a bit before stirring in about 10 skinless thighs and chunks of two breasts of chicken.

 I let this all cook for about 10 minutes before adding half a cup of water, and simmering until the chicken was cooked through and the little chicken fat had rendered out to the top.

I let it cook on low for about an hour extra, so it turned out extremely tender. This was the only dish that afternoon that didn't involve coconut milk, but magic happened when it hit the creamy kiri bath.

Finally, a typically Sri Lankan dessert of watalappan, or jaggery pudding. Jaggery is a raw traditional South Asian sweetener, typically sold as 1lb frustrums. I grated about 450g of jaggery for this pudding, mixing it with 10 beaten eggs.

I then added 600ml of coconut milk (the dessert variety is preferable), and generous pinches of powdered cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt, along with a teaspoon of powdered cardamom. Finally, I divided the well-stirred mixture into oiled steaming bowls, and steamed them for a bit over an hour. After cooling and flipping over onto a serving plate, one can see the bigger jaggery bits that sank to the bottom of the serving bowl have melted to now form the darker top of the custard/pudding.

I stuck some split cashews into the top for serving. A perfect saccharine end to the meal.

Along with, of course, the mango tea I purchased in Sri Lanka, to wash everything down. Finally got to use that in context.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Breakfast and food talk with Suzanne Husseini

Opening my very culinary weekend, BookMunch partnered with TV chef and cookbook author Suzanne Husseini for a cozy breakfast event, as part of its "Cook the Book" series. A long table was spread with a wide assortment of Levantine breakfast nosh, straight out of Ms Husseini's books on the region's characteristic cooking traditions. We eagerly tucked in as Fairuz played in the background.

I am not a huge fan of the bread-ish Lebanese foods, so I passed on that tray (left); I did make an exception for the star-shaped biscuit thingy with fresh zaatar, though. Other interesting items in the first wave included labneh balls rolled in nuts and spices (right top), and the dips (right bottom), including a delicious hummus made with yoghurt, and three labneh dips that were each shot through with a different added ingredient.

I was a little skeptical about how well a slimy-textured vegetable would do in an omelette, but the aubergine omelette was really good. The climax of the breakfast was the fatteh hummus, which Ms Husseini provided as a DIY kit to assemble the most fresh and customized FH I have ever had. The yoghurt topping for this had the perfect consistency and taste, and the pomegranate seeds made a huge (and positive) difference.

I saved her spiced and sugar-sprinkled take on scones for last, and they were absolutely scrumptious with soft butter and BookMunch's in-house berry jam. Perhaps I should try this for my next scone tea.

Apart from describing what we ate, Ms Husseini also shared her food philosophy, especially her advocacy of home cooking, eating with family and keeping food traditions alive, as well as her stance against processed and fast food. I chimed in with opinions in favor of instilling cooking skills in the male lineage (with which I think she agreed), and against restaurants having those god-awful "children's menus" (with which she very much agreed). A great morning of food, fun and Fairuz, surrounded by books.

UPDATE: The event was also covered by Kayf TV. Highlights here.