x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

It's a packed schedule for the second annual Performing Arts Festival in Dubai

The four-day performing arts festival in Dubai features more than 200 participants.

From left, the artists Sol Abiad, Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed. Satish Kumar / The National
From left, the artists Sol Abiad, Mina Liccione and Ali Al Sayed. Satish Kumar / The National

Michael Winslow, the human voice machine from the 1984 film Police Academy, is set to perform in Dubai for the first time today as part of the city's biggest performing arts event.

He will join more than 200 talents - all but three local artists - for Dubomedy and Viva Arts's second annual Performing Arts Festival. The event will be held in various venues across Dubai and is expected to attract 16,000 people over four days, before the festival wraps up on Saturday.

The performances are to include stand-up comedy, poetry slams, music concerts, dance, spoken word and experimental and improvisational theatre, presented by artists from across the globe.

Winslow, who has been dubbed the "man of 10,000 sound effects", is best remembered as Sgt Larvelle "motor-mouth" Jones from the Police Academy films.

Acclaimed Egyptian comedian Mohammed Salem is also one of the most anticipated acts. Musicians, actors, dancers, poets and hip-hop artists, among many others, range from students and professionals to Hollywood legends and will perform in English, Hindi, Urdu and Arabic.

Ali Al Sayed, Emirati comedian and co-founder of Dubomedy, the local comedy and urban arts hub, will also perform. He said one of the main aims is to ensure local artists get the recognition they deserve.

"The local art scene is beautiful, active and keeps on developing, which is why a festival like this makes sense," said Al Sayed. "So expect to see talent in Dubai you never even knew existed. We hope that people come and support these artists from such a mix of backgrounds."

Earlier this year, he was also signed on to work as a producer, presenter and writer on OSN (Orbit Showtime Network) programming.

Other Emirati stand-up comedians will include Omar Ismail and Abz Ali, who will perform in Arabic on the second night at the Burj Khalifa Steps.

The Dubomedy Arts School has been offering courses in comedy, body percussion and tap dance since 2008. Its NYC tap and body-percussion students, Siobhan's Irish Dancers and the Comedy 101 and Advanced Stand Up students will perform a show called Mix Tape: Stand Up and Dance!, a free event to kick off the first day at DUCTAC Kilachund theatre.

Also that night, the UAE's first and only improvisational comedy troupe, Improv Revolution, will be keeping the audience on their toes, said Mina Liccione, artistic director of VIVA Arts and head teacher of Dubomedy Arts School.

"All the acts will be performing original material," said Liccione, who is married to Al Sayed. "As we grow, it's important to represent the community and UAE life in a positive way. We are using comedy as a tool to bring people together and it was very important to add Arabic and Indian artists. Next year we will represent more communities."

Most shows like this in the US, she said, only allow professional acts. The Dubai festival, however, also gives students and up-and-coming talents their chance to perform.

"We wanted to integrate every level because each drop of the waterfall is crucial and I love that," she said. "We all work together and for each other. There is no ego; just a celebration of art and expression. Each artist brings something unique to the table."

The Performance Art Jam night on day two will feature the Indian poet Jamal Iqbal, during the Urdu, Hindustani and Sufiana performances. He will collaborate with Liccione. Iqbal will be reading two to three poems, one of which will be in English.

"I started poetry before I even knew what love was," said Iqbal, stopping off at the Dubomedy office just before rushing off to a practice session.

"I will be his rhythm, so-to-speak," joked Liccione, an Italian/American stand-up and sketch comic, tap dancer, choreographer and arts educator.

The biggest challenge to mounting such an event has been securing funding for it, said Al Sayed.

"With more than 200 performers, such events are not cheap and it's difficult to find sponsors to support grassroots events, but we have gone ahead to prove we are able to do it," he said. "This is also a demonstration from us that education maintains sustainable arts."

The main musical act will be Dubai's own Emirati singer/songwriter Hamdan Al Abri, whose father is also a renowned musician from Zanzibar. Al Abri is also the frontman for local band ABRI, which has performed alongside artists such as Ziggy Marley, Kanye West and Kelly Rowland. One of his songs has also recently been picked up by US hit TV series CSI.

"The UAE has grown and changed so much over the last few years and I knew other aspects like the performing arts would follow suit," said Al Abri, who recently released his self-titled solo debut EP. "I'm so glad to be a part of that growth and this festival is a perfect example."

Al Abri will perform on the last night at the Burj Steps, alongside other performances by Abu Dhabi Strings Orchestra and local artists acoustic/solo Lauren Neiuwland, RnB singer Sal the Artist and singer/guitarist Sach Holden.

An afternoon of unconventional theatre will be presented by two of the UAE's only experimental troupes - Abu Dhabi's Resuscitation Theater and Dubai's Star Too. They promise an "out of the box" storytelling experience.

Sol Abaid, theatre director of Star Too, said the group will perform an original piece called Who Did It?, featuring six actors in a sequence of stories.

"Experimental theatre uses a lot of symbolism. We have no props, just silk cloth that will be shaped to represent objects," said the Dubai-based French/Lebanese national. "Like silk dancers. It takes plenty of open-mindedness because we rely more on the visuals. Being a part of this festival brings experimental theatre closer to the community, so expect the unexpected."

Abaid also teaches theatre at the Sorbonne University in Abu Dhabi and various schools. She also coaches personality development through theatre techniques.