While the city’s art scene is on the up, pickings remain relatively slim for Abu Dhabi’s theatre fanatics. Chaos, the latest attempt to boost Abu Dhabi’s dramatic credibility, is a new play by New York-based company Theater Mitu, in which philosophical questions surrounding transient lifestyles are posed and explored. Questions that director Rubén Polendo believes apply to us all...
What is your impression of the arts scene in Abu Dhabi?
As well as working with my theatre company, I’m also a professor with New York University Abu Dhabi, and a big part of my role has been to investigate the cultural scene in the UAE. In terms of straight theatre, rather than dance or classical music, apart from community groups, there really hasn’t been a professional production created and produced here, which presents us with challenges. But that’s what makes it so exciting.
What sort of challenges?
Mostly just the logistics of getting things done. Lighting, for example – there’s equipment available in New York that you just can’t get here, scenery has to be built differently and so on. But it’s really just about getting on the same page. We’ve added an awesome challenge to the production ourselves, in that we’re performing in the open air on the Corniche. The structure sits right on the water, so when the curtain opens, the audience will be able to see the actors with the ocean right behind them. There’s also the challenge of getting the word out, trying to attract a diverse audience beyond the NYU AD community.
Talk us through Chaos. Has it been devised specifically with an Abu Dhabi audience in mind?
During my time here, I’ve realised this city is a landscape that’s defined by travel, by migratory attitudes, mixed with the rich influence of Emirati culture. I’d been reading some works by Pirandello, an Italian short story writer. All his tales pose questions about how ideas of love, family and tradition survive amid movement and migration. And I found myself thinking: How does it survive? It’s a theme that’s extremely poignant to myself, and it extends so easily to the other expat communities. It was as though I were reading some sort of myth or folk tale that had been written about this place. Pirandello has a great quote about these places, where home is a moving entity, when asked what it’s like to be a person who’s part of something like that, he responds by saying ‘he is the son of chaos’. This idea comes not from chaos in its negative sense, but as a state of possibility. We’ve taken these short stories as well as some versions of the stories that were made into plays and adapted them into one complete story.
What sort of theatrical styles are you using in the production?
The greater mission of my company has been investigating world theatre traditions and attempting to infuse the way we make theatre with a sense of newness. Chaos will involve everything from Bedouin styles, Balinese puppet work to Japanese butoh. Bedouin theatre has this incredibly physical, almost slapstick tradition which is really tethered to working on sand. So it’s got this really funny violence to it – as you can imagine, when you’re on sand you can throw yourself anywhere. Ultimately what you will see is a cohesive piece where these elements work seamlessly.
As the first professional production conceived and produced in the city, do you feel you’re under a lot of pressure?
Not really. I have a huge interest in making sure theatre is seen as an art form. Its entertainment value to me is a by-product of that art, but not the core purpose of it. It brings something to a community, a strength in experiencing something together and recognising yourself in that production. It’s a dilated conversation. To me, that’s exciting, and getting that right is the real pressure.
Theater Mitu will be performing Chaos on the Corniche (gate 6), March 2-5, from 8pm. Tickets are free but seats are limiteds. For more information, visit www.theatermitu.org