As the performing arts in the UAE are growing  (COVID-19 being just a temporary interruption), we have missed a platform dedicated just to them – a platform which would help to keep a track on what’s happening and give food for thought.  And as they say, if you miss something  – create it! Therefore, we are launching this blog which will focus solely on theater and dance – in the UAE and the rest of the world. We will regularly update you with what’s on, let you know what we recommend and why, and share some other interesting information and insights in the form of interviews, overviews,  reviews and other views.

We are starting with the introduction of the dance and theater season 2020 – 2021. Here you will find the overview of a current situation – what is happening in the venues of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and under which conditions due to COVID-19.

While worldwide pandemic is raging around the world and live performances have been widely canceled, artists have been seeking for new ways to reconnect with their audiences. It does not come with surprise that UAE dance and theatre stage has also had to build resilience, change and adapt in order to start the new season. Despite difficulties and challenges imposed by Covid-19 pandemic on venues, the Dubai and Abu Dhabi performing arts scene were eager to start the season 2020-2021.  For understandable reasons, the venues announced their program just for half a season, till the end of the year: the uncertainty underlying in organizing live events makes it extremely difficult to plan far in the  future. 

The world may never be as we knew it, and it is important to step forward while taking necessary precautions. In recently issued Circular No. (27/2020), all events in Abu Dhabi are continuing to be banned until further notice, however Dubai started  to reopen and issued guidelines for the venues and organizers allowing to restart live events.  The following safety & health measures are to be taken in consideration:

▪ Visitors need to be pre-register online prior to the event and on-event registration areas are only to be used to scan pre-registered guests while maintaining 2 meters distance.

▪ Seating capacities have been limited and to follow the social distancing requirement of one person per 4sqm.

▪ Sterilization & sanitization to take place at regular intervals (depending on the scale of the event), as well as to ensure that sanitizer dispensers are available across the venue.

▪ Food & beverage are allowed as long as social distancing is ensured. 

▪ Performers are allowed to remove masks while on stage (keeping at least 4 meters distance from the audience), however staff members wear masks at all times.

In Dubai, the following venues have already opened and have dance and theater in their  program.  You can find extra COVID-19 safety regulations comments on their websites.

Dubai Opera

This fall the multi-format performing arts venue Dubai Opera offers predominantly music and stand-up comedy. However, despite the challenging time for live dance performance, Dubai Opera has managed  to add one to its program! On November 11th Dubai Opera is bringing Flamenco Passion De Lucia a Camaron. The show ‘De Lucía a Camarón’ is a nod to legendary guitarist Paco de Lucía and vocalist Camarón de la Isla who turned flamenco on its head when they joined forces in the late 60s, with a jazzy sensibility that helped welcome Latin rhythms and rumba licks into the repertoire. A modern flamenco ensemble mixing elements of various genres into powerful performance while ensuring rich harmonies of original elements of flamenco and fusing them with the other current styles. The ticket prices for a person range from  175 AED to 475 AED. Dubai Opera kindly informs to keep social distancing while in the premises and reminds that wearing a face mask is mandatory at all times inside the auditorium.

The Junction

Comedians, poets, dancers, actors, musicians, and all other artists are celebrated in Junction, a home for Dubai’s residents and regional talents. The season started with Shorter + Sweeter – a comedy showcase of 10 mins plays previously performed in the Short + Sweet Festival Dubai, which ran last weekend. 

October 15 -17 audience is invited to a full length Hindi production Kaumudi. The plot draws answers from two parallel stories about the ‘reality’ on stage and the ‘reality’ off it continuing in the same vein to reach a climactic end, while trying to hold up a mirror to the artist in the context of his creation and society at large. There will be actors and dancers on stage! Tickets: General 85 AED & Pack of 4 – 300 AED.

Next in October is The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams – one of the most beloved 20th Century plays.  This riveting “memory play” follows the fragile Wingfield family. It  has strong autobiographical elements and it is said to be one of the greatest tests of an actor’s ability. The Glass Menagerie was Williams’ first successful play; he went on to become one of America’s most highly regarded playwrights. The play has had many Broadway revivals, the most recent being in 2017. There are two Hollywood film versions of it. Such actors as  Katherine Hepburn, Cherry Jones, Sally Field, Maureen Stapleton, Kiefer Sutherland, Jessica Lange have lined-up to play in this play. The Glass Menagerie  is  presented by Danú Theatre, directed and produced by Pádraig Downey who was recently awarded a Golden Visa for his Drama exploits in Dubai.  On stage October 22 – 24. Tickets: early Bird – 60 AED, General – 85 AED, Couple – 140 AED (70 each).

November will offer a treat to the Dubai French speaking community: the French-speaking drama school “Culture Emulsion” is bringing on stage 1962 Broadway play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It is a play  about the troubled marriage of a middle-aged couple named Martha and George. The play critiques the idea of the perfect American family and challenges social expectations about life, love and family. Four players, 2 couples, a secret to discover: with sarcastic spikes, verbal fist, George, Martha, Nick and Honey clash until exhaustion. The masks fall, the acidic remarks fuse and the couples reflect … the night stops and becomes immutable, the time is paralyzed as on a stage of theater. Presented by Culture Emulsion and directed by Stéphane BRISMONTIER, the play will be on stage November 11 – 14. Tickets: 150 AED.

H72 Productions is bringing the cult classic Reservoir Dogs to The Junction from 18th – 21st November. More information to come soon. Also in November – another Hindi production Darmiyyan (November 27 – 28). December is promising a Midsummer Nights Dream (dates tbc). For information about these performances, follow the updates on The Junction.

La Perle by Dragone has Resumed Performances

Dubai’s first permanent show has reopened doors for the visitors. The mastermind behind La Perle is Franco Dragone, one of the world’s most renowned artistic directors and the visionary behind theatrical spectacles such as Le Rêve in Las Vegas and other famous performances. La Perle Theatre stage has been tailor-made to provide an immersive experience. This is achieved thanks to 3D projections surrounding the theatre on the floors, wall and huge cyclorama and 360-degree surround sound system. A high-tech ‘aqua-stage’, is filled with 2.7 million litres of water and has the ability to transform from an aquatic stage to a dry platform in less than a minute. Not to mention an assembled cast of world-class artists who will continue to entertain night after night. The ticket prices for a person range from 159 AED to 599 AED for VIP Lounge.

Abu Dhabi: The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) Kick-Starts the 6th Season 

While Abu Dhabi is extending the event ban until further notice The Arts Center NYUAD is not slowing down and has launched its sixth season with performances and events conceived fully for a physically distanced environment. Season Six also includes Off The Stage – an array of interactive events delivered as part of each artist’s virtual residency – such as workshops in dance and theater-making, online career chats and intimate online meals with the artists. 

October dance and theater program starts with the Middle East theater premiere – A Thousand Ways: Part 1 by 600 HIGHWAYMEN, which is a one-on-one phone experience between two strangers happening via interactive phone call. It is a new type of theater, designed around physical distancing guidelines.. A Thousand Ways: Part 1 is an enthralling, imaginative, and profound social experience from one of the world’s most acclaimed theater companies, and the first part of a planned trilogy. 

600 HIGHWAYMEN (Abigail Browde and Michael Silverstone) has been called the “the standard-bearers of contemporary theater-making” by Le Monde, and “one of New York’s best nontraditional theater companies” by The New Yorker. Since 2009, 600 HIGHWAYMEN have been making live art that illuminates the inherent poignancy of people coming together. The work exists at the intersection of theater, dance, contemporary performance, and civic encounter. Written & created by Abigail Browde & Michael Silverstone,  October  7 – October 18. Tickets 52.50 AED.

This performance is accompanied by two off the stage events, and both look exciting. First, the  Creators Workshop with Highwaymen “Create performances” focuses on Sight & Sound. (October 9, registration required).  Then,  the Arts Chat: How To Sustain A Successful Theater Company (October 12, registration required) speaks about how to fund creative work and market yourself in a competitive industry. Both topics are very significant here and it is a rare opportunity to learn  for the performing arts scene of the UAE. We highly encourage not to miss these events!

November brings contemporary dance to our screens – and this is our Top Pick of the season! The audience is invited to relive two online dance performances of acclaimed British-based dancer Aakash Odedra  #JeSuis and  Murmur 2.0, both performed live by Akaash Odedra Company in the Arts Center of NYUAD back in 2018 and 2016. Being a dance initiative, this is what we are especially looking forward to and recommend!

The performance Murmur 2.0 explores Aakash’s battles with dyslexia and how the world around him responded to his perceived disability. The piece examines how the misconceptions of dyslexia can be revealed through visual design, light, sound, and movement (Online, November 11). The performance #JeSuis is wrapped up in issues of displacement, refuge, and instability, both politically and geographically, it portrays frustrations of life in a homeland that doesn’t know the meaning of “home” anymore. A place where people continually struggle for a sense of peace. Where freedoms and choices are becoming luxuries (Online, November 12). Both streamed performances will be followed by a live Q&A. Aakash Odedra discusses the process and creation of the work. The panel will also answer questions posted by the audience.

As this is not enough, we will have a great opportunity to learn choreographies from performances and techniques, as well as participate in the chat in the following accompanying events:

Technique Workshop with Aakash Odedra, (October 13, registration required).

⇾ Technique Workshop with Aakash Odedra: Learning choreography from the acclaimed production. ⇾ Murmur 2.0 (November 10, registration required).

Arts Chat: Social Impact and Dance (November 16, registration required).

⇾ Technique Workshop with Aakash Odedra: Learning choreography from the acclaimed production #JeSuis (December 8, registration required).

Aakash Odedra is an award winning contemporary British dancer. Born in Birmingham, Aakash trained in the classical Indian dance styles of Kathak and Bharat Natyam. He incorporates that training in a unique synthesis with contemporary dance, both in his choreography and his creations with other choreographers. Aakash formed Aakash Odedra Company in 2011 as a vehicle for commissioning solos and for Aakash to develop his own choreographic work. Aakash has received numerous awards and bursaries. 

This is the theater and dance program of the season 2020-2021 which we were able to collect information about. Number of other venues are yet silent about their performance programming due to the uncertainty. We do hope and expect to see more performances live, online or mixed – coming up later into the season.  Alserkal Avenue, Art Jameel Center, Louvre Abu Dhabi, UAE’s Cultural Foundation, the Fridge are a few we recommend to keep your eyes on! Keep checking on their websites and so will we!

While artists and organizers are passionate about the live performances and intimate connection with the audience, challenges imposed by global pandemic shall not cease in the near future. Physical distancing is our new reality and organizers and artists are adapting in finding new ways to engage the audience. It is important to use the benefits that might be lying in-between the changes: reaching wider audiences, creating a different kind of link through technology and virtual streaming, showing more intimate close-ups than live stage performances allow. Having said that, nothing can yet replace the energy of a live performance and we are yet to find a virtual method that would bring equally magic experience.

With incredible work of local government regulatory bodies, artists, venues and organizers the new season 2020-2021 started off with creative and dynamic repertoire as per given limitations. At HIBA Art Project, we are extremely excited to see more performances coming along  in 2021 and are hopeful that live experience – yet irreplaceable with any other – will be back on stage soon! 

We will keep you posted!

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