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.