Monday, 20 January 2014

Opening Ceremony

i awake in my room on the coast of the Gulf of Oman. Fujairah is the only emirate (of the 7 united ones) that has a coastline on this gulf (part of the Indian Ocean). it's a struggle to get up (9 hour time difference). but i open the curtains and see where i am. 

my room is large, tiled and hexagonal - with four (of the six) walls made mostly of glass (this is a far-beyond-a-canadian-theatre-budget room). thank you, sheik of fujairah.

sunlight floods in. tennis courts. ocean. palm and tamarind trees. desert mountains. birdsong.

i have breakfast in a large dining area, waited on by south asians (there are almost no arabs to be seen). then i walk around the grounds. swimming pools. tanning areas. a spa. a dive shack. some outdoor bars and restaurants. a stunning beach with white sand and gentle, rolling waves. it is beautiful and manicured and somewhat surreal.

it's also all a bit unhinging. i take some notes:
lots of white bodies
speaking russian or french or german or english
real bodies
beauty cellulite muscle and fat
untanned as of yet
in too-small spandex
plus a group of japanese people in suits
a staff from subsaharan africa or south asia
and bars stocked with booze for the white bodies
really not many arabs
swimming pools
is relaxation here more relaxing than at home?
where IS home for all of these bodies, and what happens there?
this unexpected accident of location amped by jet lag unmoors me
how on earth does this world work?

later on, we - the international guests - convene at the opening ceremony for the festival, attended by the sheik and the crown prince and a few other royal types. it's fancy. i'm glad i brought a suit.

an open air venue on the beach has been built for this ceremony. yes that's right. they built a venue for the opening ceremony. it's about a 1,400 seater modelled after a traditional emirati ship. an enormous wooden structure emerging from the sand, metres from crashing waves. there are fountains that can be cued in various ways, a projection screen the size of a billboard made out of water spray, flame canons, a gazillion LED lights, enormous high-end speakers and subwoofers that, seemingly, can shake the planet.

apparently they had a decent budget.

prizes were given out by the sheik. first - one to a famous actor, and then one to the lithuanian woman i shared a cab with last night.

then lots of prizes (or, at least, statuettes) to all the sponsors, who got a photo op with the royals. 

and then: the show. 

some fantastic dancers - lots of them - men and women. and, well, that's about where my interest flagged. this opening ceremony had more more in common with the olympics than say, a theatre festival. it was spectacle-driven. the singers lip-synched. there was much in the way of synthesizer music, fancy costume changes and the swinging of scimitars. plus it all ended with some big ol' fireworks. 

of course, i couldn't understand a word, so that made it harder to connect. sadly the simultaneous translation ended with the speeches beforehand. from what i could intuit, though, it seemed to be a birth-of-the-nation story that ended with seven lip-synching sheiks downstage, donning some fancy robes, and, as far as i could tell, uniting their emirates. ba boom.

the crowd liked this bit, and many emirati flags were waved. 

and that was that. off to a literally spectacular start. much confusion finding the bus back to the hotel, and a late dinner shared with a Swede, three Greeks, and a Slovenian festival director. 

good company. large day.

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