Friday, May 8, 2015


Bit hectic with winding down here, moving to the US, and my first semester at MIT, so taking a break for now. Hope to continue blogging when things calm down.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Operation Opera at The Ivy

With a breather weekend between stretches of seasonal schedule madness on my hands, I headed down to The Ivy at Jumeirah Emirates Towers for a little Thursday night live music break. And specifically this one, because of a chance to witness opera being performed in a far more casual setting than is typical for the genre, as well as the combination of two talented locally-based artists: friend and vocalist Paul Bester, and pianist/composer Dale Nichols. They made a great musical combination, expertly performing a mix of contemporary and classic operatic renditions, and taking a few requests as well. I and my companion enjoyed the performance immensely, with lovely English bites and drinks from the Ivy's menu rounding off a great Thursday night.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Short+Sweet Gala Final

Short+Sweet's Dubai short play festival ended its three weekends of abbreviated theatre in a final face-off and award ceremony today. Unlike the past two runs S+S, in which I made it to almost all qualifying run events and skipped the finals, my February travel plans allowed me time to attend only the gala final.
The cast and director/writer of Treteau

Having not seen any of the qualifying runs this time, I don't know what the final plays were up against in their respective weekends. Each had their strengths, but I found some of them a bit lackluster as a result of specific writing tropes and production choices (e.g. melodramatic effects, plot twists lacking creativity, etc).

There were some indubitably good ones as well. Third Half Theatre's Treteau powered ahead with its tight stage work by an ensemble cast, sweeping up awards for script (tying with The Bronx Budgie, another play with some great lines), directing, and best play overall on both judicial and popular counts. I was also rooting for the other contemporary theatre ensemble play, Starry Little Stories, but it sadly could not make any of the categories. The power of the monologue reigned, however, as best actor and actress awards went very deservedly to Asad Raza in It's All The Rage, and Mina Kici Khattar in La Marie Vison.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What's on for Art Week this year

Programs for Art Week 2015 were announced at a joint press conference today at Mina A'Salam, with days to go before March Madness. The event focused mainly on Design Days Dubai and Art Dubai, the anchor events of the week that kicks off Art Season.

Some of the more notable points mentioned there included:

  • Art Dubai IX will feature galleries from 40 countries -- the highest geo-diversity so far.
  • Art Dubai's "Marker" programme will shine a spotlight on Latin America this year -- definitely something I look forward to.
  • The Global Art Forum will set aside a day for the globe-trotting youth art project, 89plus (referring to the generation born after 1989).
  • The Artists-in-Residence programme this year will feature six younger (in terms of industry experience) artists, distinguishing it from the Commissions programme of more experienced artists partnered with organizations.
  • Some names to watch out for while browsing the 72 contemporary art galleries include Nikhil Chopra, Olu Amoda, and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, while Farid Belkahia will be among the artists featured in the 15 modern galleries.
  • RCA Secret from the Royal College of Art will be a special guest exhibitor at Art Dubai.
  • Design Days will include its largest UAE and Middle East representation to date, with Sharjah and Ajman making their debuts.
  • Most anticipated for me at Design Days Dubai will be the return of ArtFactum, Crafts Council, The Fatima bint Mohammed Initiative, and Wiener Silber Manufactur. Others to put on the must-visit list would be Zumtobel and House of Today.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Poetry and paint at The Space

Indian artist B'lu of Henosis today launched her grand solo exhibition, "Grandpa Says", in Abu Dhabi, with no less than the Ambassador of India snipping the ribbon. Spanning almost all of February and featuring a palette knife workshop run by the artist, works spanning diverse themes, sizes, and media adorned the display boards of The Space.

The artistic talent on display is evident in the attention to salient detail and the delicious harmony of colors, across works ranging from the very small to the very large. Some of my favorites were of the scenery perspectives: looking up into sky in a grove, or across a distant field at sunset, or down at reflections on a pond -- these are definitely her forte. A couple of paintings done in mainly grey, wintry tones stood out in particular.

Accompanying many of the paintings were short poems. Constructed mainly as narratives, these were notable for their simple flow and occasional colloquialisms that create a sense of intimacy.

Among other explorations of media, gold and coffee -- two among the most expensive commodities in the world, incidentally -- were used in a few works to very harmonious interplay of hue and luster.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Analysis of Dubai public space at A4 Space

UAEU professor Dr Yasser Elsheshtawy delivered a presentation, "Slow Space", at the A4 Space in Al Serkal Avenue today, describing the methodology of and data from his studies on the usage of urban spaces in the Middle East.

He began the Campus Art Dubai talk with an introduction of his earlier Cairo project and mentioned his Abu Dhabi project with FIND, but the bulk of the presentation was about his work on public space usage patterns in Dubai -- specifically, of a street in Hor al Anz and a square in Deira, both in "old Dubai".

I thought the long-ish time lapse videos were kind of unnecessary, but I liked his data maps, his descriptions of the process of acquiring the data, information about the histories and functions of the areas, and various anecdotes from the study, some of which were also revealed during the Q&A session that followed.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Loom Ensemble brings Art Monastery performance to Dubai

Loom Ensemble's Dubai-based cohort returned to the city this month after half a year away, to begin a residency of performance and workshops at thejamjar. The fruits of their Art Monastery residency in Italy during their time away, which they refined over an international tour, premiered at thejamjar this weekend as a contemporary theatre performance they call "Prime".

The central theme of the performance is a relationship that becomes increasingly tempestuous as one of the two characters, played by Neva Cockrell, finds herself unable to relate to her partner, played by Raphael Sacks. The tension and lack of meaningful communication in their relationship is portrayed using an array of visual, verbal, physical and vocal metaphors -- some with more than one dimension of allusion.

The play features beautiful choreography and appropriate pacing, with some particularly interesting motifs expressed through color and clothing. A keen observer will notice a few internal cross-references in the narrative, and see aspects of the broader themes in seemingly mundane actions or words. Much is also added by the tactical lighting and playback sound, which were technically executed very well.

The many questions and interpretations from audience members were addressed during the short discussion session that followed, in which the inspirations and process behind the project were also described.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Comedy arrives in the capital

With a growing number of options for stand-up comedy in Dubai, and even one way up in Ras al Khaimah, it's about time the capital saw some action. And that's just what happened mid-week, as Abu Dhabi standup comedy pioneers, Yalla Laughs, kicked off a fortnightly gig series in the Barosa pub at Cristal Salam Hotel.

The pub, itself fairly new, had a cosy bar hall reserved for the event. There was plenty of parking (albeit the kind that consumes some AED 1 coins and spits out others) around the hotel when I got there, forcing me to cancel my set's opening joke about parking in Abu Dhabi. I still got in a couple of city-specific jokes, woven into my newer set along with a few older bits.

Yalla Laughs' Erik Thornquist and Jonathan Boulton (top right and top left) -- AUH-based comedians who thus far have had to drive up north for gigs -- took care of preparations this time, while five of us from Dubai drove south to join them for Abu Dhabi's first regular local comedy night.

To our growing relief, the launch event was blessed with a turnout that was not only sizable, but generally receptive as well. Tight emceeing by Erik kept the energy going for me (bottom right) and four other performers, climaxing in a side-splitting headliner set by Salman Qureshi (bottom left).

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Comics workshop with The Animation Chamber

The early evening scheduling of this comics workshop by Dubai's The Animation Chamber was very helpful in ensuring I would get to Maraya Art Centre in minimal time, given how thick traffic to Sharjah tends to later. The program plan was also perfect for me, since it focused on character design and strip development rather than drawing; I already took a course in comic drawing previously.

The workshop consisted of several short timer-limited exercises, beginning with a warm-up: each participant drawing one consecutive panel of blank strips being passed around in each turn.

Then came each participant's individual assignment: random selection of three descriptors each for two characters, prototyping each character, and reducing them to easily-drawn essentials repeated in different poses. It was a little tricky for me at first, as I only trained in the drawing of human faces, but I eventually adapted some of those techniques and kludged up something halfway decent.

After a much-needed break, we chose names for our characters (in my case, "Greta" for my wise hippo supermodel, and "Wilhelm" for my psychotic turtle psychotherapist) and got down to the final stretch of comic production: plot conception, storyboard planning, bordering, sketching and drawing. I was familiar with the idea of the one-page foldout format, but I had never actually created a comic using it, and was pleased with the result achieved in the limited time we were allotted. It was a fun workshop, considering how the 3 hours flew by, and I even got some practice in for my drawing hand after a long time.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

50 Shades of Blues in Abu Dhabi

Alivia and the Elite Blues Band kicked off my musical experience of 2015 in the sixth Rooftop Rhythms blues-centric musical venture, "50 Shades of Blues", at the Saadiyat Beach Club's De La Costa bar and lounge in Abu Dhabi. Blues being right up my musical alley, I was happy to find a dedicated local event for this genre (which seems to be even more rare here than jazz).

Alivia's powerful, broad-ranged vocals and engaging showmanship were backed by the Elite Blues Band's drummer Terrence and keyboardist Robert, the latter of whom also took over lead vocals now and then. Songs performed that night on the club's beachfront terrace ranged across blues, soul and R&B genres, beginning with some light, playful numbers like "Voodoo Woman" and "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On". Later on, Robert showed us how it's done in Hammond mode when "Down Home Blues" came up in the playlist.

In the second set, audience participation began in earnest as Alivia took on a fan request and expertly rendered the Bobby Womack classic "Harry Hippie" -- a song that provided ample opportunities for a microphone pass-around. Closing a fun night of great musical performance with an enthusiastic crowd, the third and final set included popular hits like "I'll Be Around", progressively drawing people onto the dance floor, and pushing the night into the line dancing phase (obliging even bisinistrapedal me to give it a shot).

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Yule love Scandinavian baking

Christmas baking time again, and it's a return to Europe with a tea party of Scandinavian Xmas treats. Rather than do a pan-Scandinavian, I decided to do one of the most essential Xmas bake from each of the three Scandinavian countries: Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

Beginning in Denmark, I started with pebernødder (pepper nuts, literally). There's no pepper in them, but there's a hint of a spice or two, depending on the recipe. For mine, I used a teaspoon of ground cardamom, mixing it with 350g flour and a half teaspoon each of baking soda and baking powder. I then mixed 225g sugar with 80g salted butter, folding in an egg and then 100ml whipping cream. I combined this with the flour mixture to get a dough, kneading and adding a little flour until homogeneous and firm.

I pulled fist-sized blobs from this dough and rolled them out into long sausages on a floured board, using a greased knife to cut out inch-long segments to lay out on the baking tray for a 15 minute bake at 225C, until they got golden brown on top.

I got 48 pebernødder from this recipe. These were mildly sweet and subtly spiced, delicious eaten with hot tea, and kept well after as leftovers.

Moving on to Norway's sandkaker (sand cake). I mixed 200g butter into 250g flour to get a dense dough, adding in 100g almond flour, an egg, and 100g sugar to knead. The almond flour gives it a sandy texture to which the name refers. I refrigerated the kneaded combined dough for about an hour, covered.

I had bought special shell-shaped tartlet tins for this item; it is the traditional shape, although I could have used my regular flat tartlet baking tray had I not been able to find them. While preheating the oven to 175C, I pressed the cold dough into the tins (perhaps a little too thickly, in retrospect), and then baked them for about 15 minutes, until the edges of the tartlets became golden brown. After they were done baking, I let them cool for about 10 minutes before prying them out of the shell tins and letting them cool to room temperature. 24 sandkaker in all, and maybe half as many more if I had spread them thinner.

Lacking multe berries, I made do with raspberries to top, spread over with generous helpings of whipped cream to make a treat that appealed to the palate and eye alike.

The final baking destination was Sweden and its saffransbullar (saffron bun), also called lussekatt (after St Lucy's Day, which falls during Advent). In a mortar, I ground up 1.5g saffron with about a teaspoon of sugar, and cultured 25g yeast by mixing with 150ml warm milk and 100g warm melted butter, letting it sit for several minutes. I then added the ground saffron and 100g sugar, plus half an egg, half a teaspoon of salt.

Finally, I added 375g flour, kneading up a dough into which I mixed about 40g raisins. I let this springy dough rise, covered, for about 30 minutes in a warm place. I rolled lumps of twelfths of the dough out into small sausages, letting them sit covered for 10. Finally, I rolled them out twice as long, then rolling in the ends into double-spiral S-shapes around a couple of raisins, and letting them sit covered for about 90 minutes. Before baking for about 5 minutes each at 220C, until golden brown on top, I brushed the buns with a mixture of the other half of the egg and a couple tablespoons of water.

The buns were delightfully fluffy, sweet to the taste, and a gorgeous bright yellow color inside and out.