Blog Archive

Blog Archive – May, 2010

'Sex and the City' Arrives in Abu Dhabi

May 28, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Are we, Arabs and the lands we so love, a mere theater stage for today’s Orientalists as well? There is hardly a doubt this was our 19th century role. I am beginning to realize little has changed. For confirmation I need only take a glimpse at the explicitly ‘orientalist’-staged production 'Sex and the City 2'. What a brilliant idea boast publicists: —4 sexy girls of Manhattan fame take a fling on the desert, arriving in exotic Abu Dhabi for a weeklong spree. Imagine what this can inspire among millions of suburban wives who follow the stars!

Besides camels and sand there’s fashion and luxurious hotel settings.  Surely Arab hospitality has reached a new zenith. A new stage of orientalism. That’s us. From Morocco to Abu Dhabi, we’re the hottest thing in entertainment.

Of course we've practiced this. Coming out of the 19th century we had Isabelle Eberhardt in North Africa, Gertrude Bell in Iraq; we propped for Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. We furnished nasty characters for a plethora of espionage war novels during the cold-war years.

Then with political independence and dictatorships we offered our 'oil rich sheiks'. They set new heights in extravagances and vulgarities. Their behaviour may seem obscene but obscenity has its appeal. After all, their profligacy helped pour Arab dollars into the accounts of all those US and European suppliers

I was in Abu Dhabi a year ago where I learned that 100,000 westerners, mainly Europeans, live there and in nearby Dubai. Plenty of work. Wonderful salaries. They can look to the princes for ideas of how to spend.

Today cultural depravation in these desert cultures is no longer a problem; these new urbane populations have discovered international theater, art, film and poetry extravaganzas. All this just a few hundred miles from the ‘war theater’. Thus Abu Dhabi and vicinity offer convenient R& R facilities for those weary warriors from Iraq.

Much of the $US trillion dumped into that war seeps into neighboring states who not only host officers and soldiers. They are the commissary. All conveniences.

Then, as if real battles and bombs are insufficient, we have the rush of Iraq war films. Too dangerous inside Iraq? Jordan and Morocco are handy orientalist theaters for film-companies. You need bombs, terror images, ugly, dumbstruck Arabs, camels? No problem. We are the most hospitable people on the globe.

Morocco is  the actual setting for Sex and the City 2. It seems somebody in the real Abu Dhabi didn’t come through for American stars.


[ 'Sex and the City' Arrives in Abu Dhabi ]

A Melayu Philippine Muslim Play in NY

May 17, 2010

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

Today’s comment is a review of “Pandibulan –Bathing by moonlight”, a moving and very special dance, music and folk tales presentation of the Melayu people of Southern Philippines.

Directed by an old friend from WBAI Radio, Potri Ranka Manis, this completely overwhelmed me when I saw it. The performance also showed me how much Potri Ranka Manis has been doing in the 5-6 years that we hadn’t seen each other, and all while she remained fully employed in a nursing career.

I almost missed Pandibulan, only catching the last performance Sunday May 2 at the end of its run at La Mama Theater in New York City. Pandibulan was a profound presentation of events, culture, history and politics that far surpasses what most New York theatergoers experience.

The 90 minute play fully absorbed me although it had virtually no spoken dialogue and neither HipHop music nor wild staging. The story was essentially told through a Yakan pantomime in music and dance. It was, in many respects, an opera. It tells the story of the far reaching trials of a people who inhabit Basilan Island, one of the most fertile areas of Mindanao in South Philippines. A people now fighting for its existence, their story traces their ancestry in their homeland to New York where her people have migrated in search of work, fighting here as well, this time to survive as a nurse.

This kind of history is rarely attempted on stage these days when political messages from the authentic source of a conflict are essentially taboo, and these simply would not attract funding. Moreover, how often do we see such a complex political story told in music and dance alone?

Potri Ranka Manis has given us a superb presentation. She created this for a talented young team, costumed in the most simple folk clothes that remind us of the peasant quality of life. Perhaps Ranka Manis saves all the luxury for the music; it runs through every second of the performance, changing the moods and guiding the choreography. No one would leave the theater after Pandibulan, without feeling uneasy about the story of the Maley people of The Philippines.

[ A Melayu Philippine Muslim Play in NY ]

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