There aren’t many mid-sized performance spaces in Dubai, especially not for theatre (which generally needs seats, a lighting rig, and backstage areas like green rooms and props stores).
Dubai has small theatres in Al Quoz in the form of the Courtyard (max about 70 seats) and the Junction (around 160), with other possible small studio-theatre or black-box style spaces available as pop-ups in galleries and elsewhere. There are some very well equipped theatres among the city’s private schools, but using them for public performances is obviously fraught with problems.
So there’s not much in the middle, apart from the QE2 theatre which can hold just over 500 people.
A couple of years ago we also had a couple of useful mid-size theatres in the form of Ductac (540 seats) and the Madinat Theatre (440). Both went dark as the owners (of Mall of the Emirates and Souk Madinat Jumeirah respectively) decided to rethink their strategy for those spaces.
The good news is that Majid Al Futtaim Properties apparently decided against redeveloping the Ductac area for retail purposes, and instead have given Art For All a lease to put on touring shows (mostly for kids, mostly from the UK, all high-quality). So there’s at least one mid-sized performance space just off SZR, operating under the commendably explicit name ‘The Theatre at Mall of the Emirates’.
Making more of the Madinat
On the other hand, the Madinat Theatre is no more. To be fair, it was looking its age when it closed its doors 18 months ago; and while there’s much to be said for a proscenium arch, and a raked auditorium with plush seats, it’s not the most versatile of options for performance.
But at least the space is getting a new lease of life. Dubai Retail is getting towards the end of a thorough renovation of its Souk Madinat Jumeirah property (“recreates the traditional Middle Eastern marketplace through distinctive architecture, commercial exchange and lively cultural entertainment”).
Part of that will include the launch of the Theatre of Digital Art Dubai (ToDA Dubai), which will take over the former Madinat Theatre space – now gutted and thoroughly revamped for its new role.
ToDA will be a permanent multimedia exhibition space for Vision Multimedia Projects, an interesting Russia-based company that specialises in massive immersive AV experiences. Their multimedia exhibitions feature projections on giant screens, surround sound, virtual reality, and often stunning special effects, typically in the service of art or science and usually including edutainment extras like masterclasses or hands-on experiences.
Vision Multimedia has half a dozen impressive shows, and it looks as though some or all of these will be brought to ToDA. They include Van Gogh. Life in Art – the artist’s story accompanied by high-resolution huge-scale artworks and “beautiful” music (this isn’t the Van Gogh Alive show that toured in Abu Dhabi and then Dubai a couple of years ago, but it sounds very similar).
There’s also Great Impressionists – Monet, Renoir, Degas, which should provide a feast of colour and artistic emotion on those huge screens; Michelangelo. The creation, a tour of the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in close-up; and From Monet to Kandinsky. Visions Alive, an intro to early 20th century European art via a who’s who of the time (Gauguin, Van Gogh, Toulouse Lautrec, Mondrian, Klee etc as well as the titular Monet and Kandinsky).
Vision additionally has an interactive show about the universe (why think small?) and another about the work of Hieronymus Bosch (which might have a bit too much rudeness in the Garden of Earthly Delights to make it past the censors).
Nicola Walsh, marketing director at Dubai Retail, told us that in addition to the exhibition space there will be a Virtual Reality Room and an Interactive Room (no, us neither) plus “painting masterclasses, unique artefacts, audio guides and more”.
Ms Walsh also said ToDA will open in Q1, and that’s likely to be “in conjunction with” World Theatre Day on 27 March. “Ticket prices will range from AED 60 to AED 150, with kids under 3 going free. The Interactive Room has a free entrance, while the VR Room has a fee of AED 25.”
And what’s happening to all the equipment from the old Madinat Theatre? “Everything that can be has been repurposed. We are trying to salvage as much as possible … whatever can be reconditioned will be kept or given away”.
Dubai Retail is buffing up Souk Madinat’s cultural credentials in other ways, too. The Souk Seven project was launched just before National Day; this gives over part of the Souk Madinat Jumeirah to seven UAE-based artists – Amalie Beljafla, Amrita Sethi, Fathima Mohiuddin, Laila Masri, Mona Fares, Noora Al Mazroui and Zeinab Al Hashemi, an interesting selection of different styles that will produce an ongoing collection of artworks and installations.
Amping up the Amphitheatre
And the Souk Madinat Amphitheatre has been taken over by event management agency Park Lane Live to provide a programme of entertainment all year around. “The aim is to create content and activations which bring the Amphitheatre and its surroundings to life,” said Nicola Walsh.
We asked what kind of events this meant. “Upcoming shows include theatre performances that tap into different categories including family, culture, and classical; movie nights that showcase various genres and types of film including documentaries, sing-a-longs, Disney marathons and themed weekends; festivals including the upcoming Homegrown @ Souk food festival, markets, and more; and themed content around special calendar dates like Christmas.
“[Park Lane Live’s] objective is to work hand in hand with the Souk to be both commercially clever, and creatively ahead of the spectrum with content spilling from the Amphitheatre into the Souk and its spaces … to create a holistic approach that ensures a unified feeling of content, culture and entertainment across the spaces”.
Not much detail there, but Park Lane Live is run by Maxine English, which is good news – she’s been in the entertainment business here for 15 years, originally with Flash and including a year as events and operations director at Ductac followed by a stint as COO of Outside the Box Events (during which she launched Theatre by QE2). This is someone who knows what she’s doing …
There’s no schedule for opening, and no calendar of events yet. We’ll keep you posted.
The conclusion from Ms Walsh: “Souk Madinat Jumeirah is an iconic destination that continues to connect visitors with a traditional Arabian experience blended with a modern glimpse of the past. It is also a destination which provides a full array of entertainment, and the new Theatre of Digital Art Dubai and Amphitheatre performance space will add to the destination’s rich cultural offering”.