JEDDAH: The owner of a new Saudi ballet school has received substantial support from the Kingdom’s community of performing artists.
After opposition from some sections, leading artists have rallied to support the enterprising mother who set up an institute for teaching ballet in the Eastern Province.
The story was featured on the state-run Al-Ekhbariya TV channel though without mentioning the name of the ballet school’s owner or any of the instructors working with her.
The proprietor decided to establish the dance center for women and girls after her 4-year-old daughter showed a passion and talent for the classical art. One instructor at the school said she had been inspired to teach dancing to children after following the career of Saudi ballet star Samira Al-Khamis, who earned worldwide fame as a dancer and was featured on the official poster of the first Red Sea International Film Festival, which was this year postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the number of ballet institutes opening in major Saudi cities, such as Riyadh and Jeddah, has been on the rise, some traditionalists still reject the idea of girls learning any form of dance. Some Saudis took to social media to condemn the new school, while others, including men, posted messages of support.
The involvement of Saudi women in sport, culture, and the arts is being encouraged in the Kingdom with authorities removing many of the restrictions that once limited their participation in public life.
Sera McKnass, founder of iBallerina Jeddah, said: “There is a huge demand in the Eastern Province for this classical art (ballet). I really hope with all my heart she brings real technical ballet, not creative commercial training.
“That was one of the main things iBallerina faced for the first four years in terms of educating people about what is real classical ballet and away from the misconceptions and mix-ups with gymnastics or contemporary dance.”
McKnass hoped that the owner of the new ballet institute would find success with her venture. “It will definitely be quite a journey,” she added.
THE BREAKDOWN: Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige discuss ‘Cedar IV, A Reconstitution’
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: Through their 2011 installation, The Paris-based Lebanese duo reflect on their 2011 installation, inspired by the Lebanese Rocket Society from the 1960s.
Hadjithomas: It all started with my sister. She was researching Lebanese history and came across this story about rockets being launched from Lebanon (in the Sixties). It stayed in our minds. A few years later, we saw the stamp of the Cedar IV rocket, which was issued in 1964, and we thought it was really interesting.
Joreige: We wondered why such a positive project disappeared from our history and memory.
H: The Lebanese Rocket Society started in 1960 at Haigazian University. There was a professor — Manoug Manougian — who was really fond of rocketry. His students started making rockets and propellants at the university. The Lebanese Army joined in, but for Manoug and his students it was always an educational project — never a military one.
J: It wasn’t nationalistic either. Most of the people involved weren’t Lebanese — they came from all over the region. Through education, they were building peace.
H: They thought they were contributing to the space race — they were contemporary to the rest of the world, researching this fascination that people had for space. It’s about hope and dreams. So we felt that we should tell this story and find all the people that participated. That was not easy because they were scattered all around the world.
J: We had to think about different strategies of reactivating the past in the present.
H: So we rebuilt a rocket with the help of Sharjah Biennale and we offered it to Haigazian University. Reconstitution is a way of giving matter — reality — to our lost memories. That’s why it was important to redo the rocket exactly as it was. We chose Cedar IV because it was one of the most successful, but we didn’t put the Lebanese flag on it.
J: if you put a flag on it, it would become national and militaristic. By keeping it white, it’s a place of projection, a ghostly presence.
H: Today, it seems like a military missile but it’s not.
J: The UAE probe (which reached Mars on Feb. 9) is called “Hope.” When you are targeting another dimension, something you don’t know, it is always a question of hope.
H: Lebanon is very rich in its people, but we are hostages of people that are corrupt and think only about themselves. We were really happy for the UAE when “Hope” reached Mars, and I think the Lebanese reacted to it because they felt they should also be dreaming — and having the possibility to reconstruct and free themselves from those corrupt people.
The most prestigious venues in South Africa’s tourism capital have never been more affordable
Updated 26 February 2021
DUBAI: The silence atop Table Mountain on a cloudless afternoon in December is an experience only the COVID-19 pandemic could have brought.
As one of the most popular hikes (or cable-car rides, if you’d prefer an easier climb) in Cape Town, the summit is usually thronging with people wielding selfie sticks and smartphones whatever the day, leaving you jostling for a decent view of the famed Twelve Apostles to the left, and the sweeping city and harbor to the right. But on this Friday evening we find ourselves alone except for our guide and a peppy rock hyrax for company.
Naturally, South Africa’s tourism capital is a different place during the pandemic. Like elsewhere in the world, it’s largely devoid of international travellers. This is bad news for the country’s tourism industry, but a positive point if you’re one of the few choosing to head abroad.
The city’s top hotels are offering large discounts to entice travellers in. And Cape Town’s premier attractions — including its world-renowned restaurants — are easier to get into then ever.
South Africa opened its doors to tourists on November 1, but has since faced challenges in being perceived as a safe place to visit. In December, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the country was in a second wave of infections, one that was crippling the hospital system. The South African variant of COVID-19 was also discovered. Flights into and out of the country were cancelled. Ramaphosa closed beaches and public parks and enforced a number of other restrictions in perceived hotspots — including Nelson Mandela Bay and the famous Garden Route. The move was another blow for the tourism industry there, which, after a tough lockdown period earlier in the year, was relying on the incoming flock of domestic tourists for the festive season.
Cape Town and the surrounding area escaped strict restrictions, however. Its beaches, as well as the sparkling white bays and the quirky towns dotted around Cape Peninsula (Hout Bay, Kalk Bay, Muizenberg etc) are humming with locals. It’s a relative hum, however, with only a few beachfront restaurants nearing capacity and a palpable air of uncertainty.
Wandering along Cape Town’s beachfront, you’ll be hard-pressed to hear a foreign accent. You can wander through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and not see another face for long periods of time. On a hike up Table Mountain, you might only encounter a couple of other people on the same route. The uncrowded outdoors beckon.
Many of the hikes in the city (Lion’s Head is another must-do) seem easy enough, but are better attempted with a guide — both for safety and enjoyment. Most hotels will either have one on staff or will be able to arrange one for you. If you’re staying at the One and Only Cape Town, seek out David. He’s knowledgeable about hidden spots on the hike, as well as about the area’s fauna and flora, meaning your hike will be peppered with educational tidbits too.
One and Only Cape Town is a top choice if you’re looking to stay central — nestled in around the waterfront. Its affable army of staff positioned around the property at all times are vigilant about temperature checks and sanitization, and it’s a diverse enough hotel to mean you never have to leave if you’re nervous about mixing in crowds. A central island of resort-style rooms offer an escape to a tropical island in the middle of the city, surrounded by waterways where you can kayak or paddleboard.
The hotel is also home to Africa’s only Nobu restaurant. Given the freshness of the catch in this area of the world, it’s the perfect place to break up all your heavy game meals. Better yet, spend a rainy day trying a sushi masterclass and learn Nobu’s famous six-step nigiri method.
Best of all, the Western Cape’s world-famous restaurants don’t need to be booked months in advance at the moment. Even in the really touristy areas.
In Franschhoek, the picturesque valley filled with vineyards just north-east of Cape Town, a seat at one of the country’s premier restaurants has never been easier to come by. For instance, at Babylonstoren, arguably the region’s most popular spot, bookings for its restaurant Babel open nine months in advance, with its website recommending booking two or three months in advance. Now, you can book with less than 24-hours notice.
La Residence, Franschhoek’s most beautiful property (and a favorite of Sir Elton John), is a boutique option at the best of times, but now it seems almost as though it’s your own private mansion. The 30-acre estate is positioned on a hillock overlooking the village on one side and with lines of vines on the other, as emboldened peacocks wander around your room, and up to your table at breakfast time. One couple has booked in for 46 nights, which may be a bit much, but it’s hard to blame them, given the (relatively) bargain prices and lack of crowds.
If you’re willing and able to travel — and if the country’s borders are open again — this might be the best possible time to visit this dazzling city.
Saudi-British artistic collaboration explores Saudi Arabia’s past, future
Young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi creator Manal Al-Dowayan
They were participants in Connect ME program, which fosters UK-Gulf artistic exchange
Updated 25 February 2021
LONDON: An upcoming artist from Saudi Arabia has revealed the results of his collaboration with a British counterpart, launching digital artwork that “seeks to recalibrate viewers’ perception of ‘the other’ culture.”
Riyadh-based Meshal Al-Obaidallah worked with artist Carolin Schnurrer to produce the work, called “FAREWELL ARABIA: A Bold New Vision,” as part of the Connect ME Digital Residency program run by the Arab British Centre.
The initiative pairs young artists from the Gulf with British counterparts to foster artistic collaboration, and to consider how digital tools can encourage connectivity across borders despite the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
As part of the program, the young artists received mentorship from prominent Saudi artist Manal Al-Dowayan.
The work by Al-Obaidallah and Schnurrer explores Saudi Arabia’s rapid development during the 20th century and how it changed society, as well as looking ahead at what the future might hold for the Kingdom.
“Through our exchange, we collected found footage, sound bites, quotes, symbols and other fragments,” said Al-Obaidallah.
“These re-appropriated fragments were processed, destroyed, accelerated, decelerated and rearranged,” he added, describing it as a “mishmash of fact and fiction.”
Eilidh Kennedy McLean, British Council country director for Saud Arabia, congratulated Al-Obaidallah on representing the Kingdom in the residency, saying: “It is an incredible, interesting time for artists to explore different mediums of collaborations to create and innovate despite the physical restrictions during COVID.”
Also selected to participate in the Connect ME program were Emirati artist Dina Khatib and British artist Ollie Cameron.
They collaborated to create a work that explores “how visualizing the unseen space between them could become a means for connection and exchange.”
All four artists and their mentor Al-Dowayan will host an online talk on March 3 to discuss the program and their creations in-depth.
Hend Sabri’s ‘Ayza Atgawez’ to return on Netflix after 10 years
Updated 25 February 2021
DUBAI: Egyptian-Tunisian actress Hend Sabri is set to release a new season of her 2010 comedy series “Ayza Atgawez” (“I Want to Get Married”) on the streaming service Netflix, she announced on Thursday.
The new show, directed by Egyptian filmmaker Hady El Bagory, will be called “Al Bahth Aan Ola” which translates to “Finding Ola.”
In the 2010 series, Sabri played the role of Ola, a young pharmacist from a middle-class family who hoped to get married before she turns 30.
Sabri took to Instagram to reveal the news to her 2.9 million followers. “I am excited because I will meet Ola Abdel Sabour again after 10 years,” she said in a video she shot on set. “Do you remember her? You do for sure. You ask me a lot about her. I am trying to look for her in a new world. We will discover what she did after 10 years.”
“Just like you all changed after 10 years, she also changed. But, some things never change,” she added, revealing that veteran Egyptian actress Susan Badr, who played Ola’s mom, will also be in the show’s new season.
Tom Hanks and Paul Greengrass reunite on sweet-but-shallow Western
Updated 25 February 2021
AMSTERDAM: Tom Hanks as an ageing cowboy searching for his place in a world that is changing too rapidly for him? No, this isn’t “Toy Story 4.” Sadly.
“News of the World” sees Hanks reunite with director Paul Greengrass — the combo behind 2013’s “Captain Phillips.” Here, Hanks plays another captain, Jefferson Kyle Kidd — a veteran of the Confederate army in the US Civil War who now makes a living traveling from town to town reading the news from the latest papers he can find to people who pay 10 cents apiece to hear it. While on the road, he encounters a young German girl by an overturned wagon. She had been kidnapped by Native Americans as an infant and raised as one of their own, but is now being returned to her only surviving relatives by a soldier who has died in their wagon crash.
Kidd ends up, somewhat convolutedly (but essentially because he’s such a good guy), having to transport the girl, Johanna — who barely speaks German or English — to her aunt and uncle himself; a long, dangerous journey made even more dangerous by predators, both human and animal. As they travel, Kidd tries to connect with Johanna, who clearly identifies as Native American and has no desire for a ‘Western’ life.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Hanks in this role, since his name is now pop-culture shorthand for this type of world-weary, kind, level-headed character. Kidd is all of those things. Hanks plays him perfectly.
Though billed as a Western, this is no action movie. Instead, it’s a contemplation of a divided nation attempting to pull itself together, and of love and responsibility. Johanna’s actual relatives are far less invested in her welfare than Kidd (they’ve never met before and she is borderline-feral, after all).
The success of the film rides on the chemistry between Helena Zengel as Johanna and Hanks as her guardian. I wasn’t entirely convinced — in comparison, to say, the similar couple in the Coen brothers’ 2010 take on “True Grit.”
“News of the World” is a sweet, downbeat-but-optimistic movie, and certainly not bad. But it is more notable, ultimately, for the films that it isn’t, rather than the film it is.