The rewards of being a reporter can sometimes be quite unexpected. My assignment this week is to check out the events lined up for the Arts Surprises week at DSS 2004. And am I having fun!
It is like becoming a child once again and forgetting all the worries of the world for some time. I dance with the street performers in the malls, try my hand at glass painting, actually hold a snake in my hand, marvel at the talent of the children as I watch them sing and dance, perform plays and present papers at the International Children's Summit and of course, I shop till I drop. After all, the DSS special offers are too good to resist and there are some really exciting prizes to be won in the raffles.
The DSS committee has promised to bring the world to Dubai and they sure do. I am seeing performances by artistes from so many parts of the world.
Many of the performers do not speak English, but it is wonderful to see how the vocabulary of dance, music and art easily transcends all barriers of language, age and culture.
Some of the highlights of the week, which continues until tomorrow, are:
The Professional Musicians show
The Los Saly group from Italy consists of brothers Joe and Karel Saly. Their energetic performance is based on the Argentinean art of "boleadoras".
"This skill has been passed down in our family for generations," says Joe.
Dressed in traditional Argentinean black costumes called "chiripas" and studded boots, the brothers begin by playing some cheerful beats on handmade drums. Then out come the boleadoras, which are tiny plastic balls attached to long ropes.
With quick movements of their hands, they swing the boleadoras around, creating beautiful beats by hitting the balls on the wooden floor of the stage.
As they juggle the balls between their hands, under their legs and over their heads and do somersaults, jumps and knee turns, they keep up a beautiful beat with the balls, which is matched by the tapping of their shoes.
I can see the children in the audience tapping their feet to the music that gradually builds up from a slow trot like staccato to a rousing crescendo.
The Saly brothers also evoke a few laughs when they invite a woman from among theaudience on stage and demonstrate their control on the boleaderos by swinging them over her head just at the right distance to toss her hair playfully.
The Snake Oasis at Mercato Mall
Fourteen snakes, including a python, lie curled in glass cages fitted into mock trees at the Snake Oasis in Mercato mall. They are part of the 120-strong snake collection of Salem Mohammed, an employee of the Dubai Department of Naturalisation and Residency.
The snakes are beautiful. Some are brown with yellow rings all along their bodies, others have speckled patterns in a variety of colours. Salem invites passersby to touch and hold them. It is interesting to watch how the initially-hesitant children soon begin to lovingly stroke the snakes' smooth bodies.
Creative Artists Show
This show is a true amalgam of world culture. All the performers of the Street Theatre Company come from France. But their act includes elements of music and dance from all over the world.
The performers wear bright red and orange costumes that look like a cross between traditional Indian, Russian and Middle Eastern folk costumes. Their faces are brightly painted and they wear lots of colourful jewellery and have colourful turbans and veils on their heads.
Each play a musical instrument. These range from drums to the saxophone, clarinet and Egyptian, Moroccan and Indian cymbals. And some of them are on stilts.
This is a truly interactive show. As they go around the mall, children and adults follow them, dancing and clapping to their lively music. All their tunes seem familiar, but I cannot identify any of them.
"We are street performers and we bring back something from every country we perform in to add to our costume and our music. Everyone identifies with our costume and our music because it encompasses the whole world," says Benedictine, one of the performers.
The International Art Stations
This is BurJuman Centre's attempt at teaching children about the artistic traditions of different countries in a fun way. Children are given colourful passports, which are stamped at the stations representing different countries.
The stations are decorated with models of landmarks such as Petra, the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids and artisans in traditional dress greet the children and demonstrate traditional crafts to them. Each child gets a certificate and a gift on completing the journey.
BurJuman also has an art corner where children can try their hand at glass painting, rubber painting and clay moulding.
The 70s Street Performers Show
This is a fun parody of Seventies music and performers. And the artistes from France look the part. The women wear red wigs and the men have their hair gelled into pointed peaks and wear looong pointed shoes.
Michelle, the conductor-cum-main dancer-cum-comedian of the group, has a knack for getting the crowd going. Every time they perform he gets people from the crowd to twist and do his version of the Charleston and Elvis's gyrations, with him.
"Our whole aim is not to be serious. We are having fun and we want the audience to have loads of fun," says Michelle.