x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Dance to the music of a statistical cluster

Luck plays tricks. There's that thing, isn't there, about how in a roomful of 23 people there's a better than even chance that two of them will share a birthday.

The dancer Akram Khan in his new show, Gnosis, which comes to Abu Dhabi this week.
The dancer Akram Khan in his new show, Gnosis, which comes to Abu Dhabi this week.

Luck plays tricks. There's that thing, isn't there, about how in a roomful of 23 people there's a better than even chance that two of them will share a birthday. With 57 people the probability rises to more than 99 per cent. Strange, but there it is. It so happens that last week Britain's Daily Express newspaper reported that a Welsh mother named Pam Banwell had given birth to three children on three different February 5s.

The paper excitedly reported that this was a 50 million-to-one occurrence, presumably reasoning that 365 (the number of days in the year, ish) to the power of three (the number of children, we hope precisely) comes to a little under 49 million. Wrong calculation! It doesn't matter what date the first child was born as long as the other two match it, so at worst the odds are one in 365 squared. The chances improve still more when you take into account any other children Banwell might have - failed attempts, so to speak - and the fact that births are more common during some seasons than others. Given national birth rates, Ben Goldacre, a medical doctor writing in The Guardian, estimated that flukes like Banwell's ought to occur once or twice a year in the UK alone, which makes them seem rather less newsworthy. Yet such patterns - little dances in the flux of randomness - impress us nonetheless.

I mention this because, improbable as it sounds, UAE-based fans of contemporary dance may feel like all their birthdays have come at once this week. What analysis can account for it? Months pass and there's barely a twitch, then all of a sudden one can hardly move for pyjama'd athletes shuddering and stumbling about the place and shaking the bars of their imaginary prisons. The most eminent of these advanced shape-throwers is Akram Khan, who returns to Abu Dhabi with his new show, Gnosis. In January last year he was here with Juliette Binoche, assisting the actress with her first, and quite possibly last, experimental dance stage show, In-I. He has also collaborated recently with the ballerina Sylvie Guillem, the artist Antony Gormley, and the pop singer Kylie Minogue.

Gnosis, a combination of traditional Indian kathak dance and more impressionistic contemporary styles, is his first solo show in four years. It drew warm reviews when part of it aired in the UK late last year (there would have been more but the star, now a venerable 35, had put his shoulder out). Khan is one of the biggest noises in British dance, so hopes are high for the finished article. Meanwhile, the Fridge has programmed an evening of contemporary dance by, it claims, six of Dubai's "most prolific choreographers". Who knew there were six choreographers in Dubai?

Come to that, how prolific can they be? Again, one marvels at the treachery of statistics. But let's not quibble: the Fridge has once again put together an intriguing programme. The bill runs from hip-hop to jazz to stuff involving videos, and features artists from Colombia, Finland, Germany, Britain, Africa and probably a few other corners of the globe. The choreographers all seem to teach or paint or to raise children on the side - not, on the face of it, conducive to a vast output of performance work. Furiously productive as they no doubt are, let's catch them while we can. Who knows? If the show helps to raise the profile of choreography in these parts, perhaps a new era for dance in the UAE will be born. What are the chances of that?

One of the big ideas Peter Scarlet brought with him when he took over the running of the Middle East International Film Festival last year was that it should be more than just a festival. He wanted to have other events scattered across the calendar, and a small one falls this week. On Wednesday at the Manarat al Saadiyat, there will be a free screening of Tahani Rached's film Neighbors, seen at MEIFF last year. If you missed it, it's a documentary about urban decline in Egypt, and about twice as gripping as that makes it sound.