Monday, November 30, 2009

The show must go on

My fabulous sister Julia asked: What type of "cultural arts" are present for the public? I'm mainly thinking of concerts, recitals (music, dance, poetry, etc), and museums but I know there are many more examples. Also, what is the difference between what a "local" would attend vs a tourism show?

Julia's question sent me, without any intended malice on her part, into a tailspin. At university I studied cultural anthropology, so when we start talking "culture" and "differences" I get uptight about definitions of terms and exhibit a Pavlovian desire to cite sources every other sentence. I consider myself a tourist in my own life, respectively, and while we are expats, we're not locals. So there I make the distinction. When I say locals I mean Emeratis. It's very possible I have only been privy to tourist things, and that's OK. We're doing our best.

I jacked up on caffeine and wrote as quickly as possible. Otherwise this post will say, over and over again, how I am unqualified to answer this...which isn't really the point. So, with a disclaimer that the University of Washington should not be held accountable for any of my answers, here we go, based solely on my experience.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi remind me of squabbling siblings in that they are constantly trying to outdo one another. Dubai excels at the glitz and glamour, the flashy sister who gets most of the attention. Abu Dhabi works hard at being the cultural arts center of the UAE, intellectual and sensitive. But then they eye each other and try to have what the other one has too, and the rest of us tend to benefit from that. Abu Dhabi's grandest plan, I think, is the Louvre Abu Dhabi project which will be created in conjunction with the Louvre in Paris. It is to be designed by Jean Nouvel (but of course, 'e is ze very famous French architect) and will borrow works from the Louvre (!) in a 30-year unprecidented agreement between the two countries.

We went to Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace to see the Islam: Faith and Worship exhibit, though we were not allowed to take photographs. Dang. No surprise though.

The pieces had been borrowed from Turkish museums, many never having been displayed before, and they were both ancient and exquisite. Each artifact was beautifully displayed and labeled, from extremely old Qu'rans to golden filials and intricately embroidered pieces of tapistries, and many, many examples of the calligraphy of the Qu'ran. Bethy enjoyed the stories about the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) regardless, as I read them to her from huge enlarged pages of the Qu'ran, lit up like stained glass windows.

The difference beween that exhibit and one we might see in the USA was there was no interpretation for the viewer. Why were the pieces significant? What did they mean? I had heard that Muslims attending had been moved to tears; we were without the background to have more than general appreciation.

We felt a bit like that when we were at the Mall of the Emirates and stumbled upon an Arabic presention of Shakespeare. We watched, unknowing which play it was. There was a beautiful girl, (which I was surprised to see an actress with her head and face uncovered) a young man consumed by serious passion of some kind, a fight between him and another man...

After I went and asked which play it was. Shakespeare, I was told. Yes, yes, which Shakespeare?

The actor went and got someone else who spoke more English and finally I made myself understood and got an answer. Aha! It was Romeo and Juliet.

Good play, that. The thing is, public displays of affection are an absolute no-no between the sexes here. Therefore there was no touching, and certainly no kissing, between Romeo and his beloved. I know if I buy a movie here that has been censored there will be plenty of violence (the more the better if it to sell here, actually,) and plenty of swearing (you betcha!) but scenes sometimes jump a bit because there is NO kissing. Whack it goes onto the cutting floor.

I buy noncensored ones. They are, of course, a bit more expensive.

Interesting in a society where men are openly affectionate to one another, holding hands, rubbing noses (not to be misinterpreted as homosexual behavior, which is really not popular here!) singing and spouting poetry, wearing expensive men's perfumes and being careful about one's appearance.

There are plenty of art galleries, which are for selling the art, in Dubai, and our Sheikh Mohammad is a noted poet and has his own book of verse about the desert. We have seen Arabic dance, which is the men with small canes singing and dancing in unison, symbolically reenacting famous battles or hunting expeditions, while the women dance by freeing their long dark hair and swinging it in time to the music. No belly dancing there, and that would be a big difference between the tourist shows and an actual celebration. If you go out into the desert for a show you can expect the belly dancer along with your shisha smoking and henna painting by the campfire.

The expats, of course, make their own dancing scene, from clubbing to tango lessons, and the little darlings in their pink tutus must be rushed off to ballet class on a weekly basis.

Julia, being a classical cellist, will be interested in the orchestral scene. There is only one full-sized orchestra here, the UAE Philharmonic. Made up of expats, it is based out of Dubai but Abu Dhabi is doing their darndest to claim it. The popular and Arabic music scene is very much hopping in Dubai, rock stars being courted to come out here on a regular basic, and we usually get movies in the theatre a few weeks after they are released in the USA. The popcorn favored by the populace is caramel, rather than butter, though.

We have been to comedy shows and children's plays at the theatre at Souk Madinat, very much a Western thing. I had to translate the thick UK accents during the early parts of both the performances to Mike and Bethy, respectively. Very much on our list of "must-do's" is the Dubai Museum, and I'm embarassed Bethy is the only one of us to have gone so far. One of those things.

Considering the buildings alone, the beautiful forms and detailing, there is without a doubt a real appreciation of the aesthetic in the everyday of Dubai.

Our entertainment, however, usually looks mostly like this:

extreme Thomas smishing (yes, he's in there)

and our fine arts look like this:

So there is my report, such as it was, on the Arts scene here in the UAE. We are never without something to do!

Thanks for the question, Sis.

Along the lines of celebrations, a very, very happy birthday to my Grandma, who was born in 1912, today. Sorry we can't call you, being out to sea in the Staits of Malacca somewhere, but sending love to our Gaga.


Anonymous said...

One of your most beautiful blogs to date. It really gave me an insight into the UEA. lovely.

Julia said...

Wow, I thought of the question while listening to a colleague's masters recital on the Doucaine (a medieval instrument that is best described as a cross between an oboe and a clarinet.)

Sorry about sending you into a tailspin, but thanks for the great answer!