x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 29 July 2017

A vision of the Emirates overseas

A landmark exhibition by Emirati artists at the Venice Biennale, a Dubai performance by Abri and a visit by the Comedy Store Players highlight this week's cultural life.

Hamdan al Abri, the lead singer of Abri, will take to the stage wit his band in Dubai.
Hamdan al Abri, the lead singer of Abri, will take to the stage wit his band in Dubai.

The biggest event in the UAE's cultural life this week will be taking place 4,000 kilometres outside its borders. And though the distances will vary, the same could be said of pretty much any other nation in the world - except, that is, for Italy. This week the Venice Biennale, centrepiece in the international art calendar, is unveiled, and this year the UAE is making a double debut at the event. There is to be a national pavilion curated by Tirdad Zolghadr: It's Not You, It's Me, which will showcase work by the Emirati photographer Lamya Gargash among other homegrown talents. Meanwhile Adach is presenting a "dispositif" created by the award-winning French curator Catherine David. It will attempt to sweep aside popular clichés about life in the Emirates and stimulate discussion of the nation's ongoing artistic projects. Her 2003 event, Contemporary Arab Representations, won her a Bard award and was hailed by the prize committee as "particularly important for our time". I'll be there to report.

Back on home turf, there's a stripped-down live set from Dubai's premier R&B outfit, Abri, to keep us entertained. The band has just released its second album Blank Notes, which the members seem to regard as their first proper statement (their first effort, Sunchild, was recorded by the vocalist Hamdan al Abri and the keyboardist Julian Symes as a duo; this one comes augmented by the drummer Andre Atherley and the bass-player Rami Lakkis, and sounds all the bigger for it). Catch the band on June 1 at The Fridge, Al Quoz, for a showcase of its new material and discussion of the significance of the songs. Here's a teaser, though: according to the band, the title track of Blank Notes imagines a world in which all the ink has vanished from paper currency, ushering in a utopia of barter and payment in kind. No word yet on where the opening track, A Piece of Yourself, fits into this economic vision. Here's hoping that it isn't what it sounds like.

Finally, there's a chance to catch the Comedy Store Players on their latest hurtle through Dubai. The legendary improv troupe, which boasts Paul Merton, Josie Lawrence and Phill Jupitus among its luminaries, will be performing a series of dates at the Madinat Theatre, modelled on the much-loved panel show Whose Line is it Anyway? The format, for those unfamiliar with it, promises sketches, songs and assorted silliness, all spun out of the air before your astonished eyes. And the Dubai line-up, it must be said, looks promising: Comedy Store stalwarts such as Andy Smart and Richard Vranch will be riffing with Ian Coppinger, last seen headlining the Laughter Factory's most recent roadshow and winning a favourable opinion from my colleague Oliver Good ("Coppinger, he wrote, "captured the audience's attention and never lost it"). Of course, the essence of improvisation is risk. Just as share prices can go down as well as up, bad extempore comedy can leave you in a blacker mood than almost any other sort of ticketed event. But what can one do but study the record and make one's choice? These gentlemen have form. Consider them tipped.