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24 September 2017Last updated
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Sol Abiad’s Fabulous Friday

Drinking Coca-Cola only out of glass bottles is the theatre director and drama teacher’s single vice

Shreeja Ravindranathan
11 Aug 2017 | 11:00 am
  • Source:Supplied

TAP INTO TALENT

I often work weekends teaching or directing, so a Friday is most likely to be busy, but in a great way. I’ll probably be rehearsing with amazing UAE-based talents or catching a live show those nights, sometimes at one of my workplaces like Ductac, or at the Paris Sorbonne University, Abu Dhabi, where I’m a professor of theatre. I’m happy to be at work this weekend – I get to be with the most creative people in town that are either actors I work with or acting students from Star Too, an experimental theatre group that I founded. Others can watch them on a screen one day, but I get to see them live.

CAUGHT THE THEATRE BUG

As a child with an imaginary world, I played in my great-aunt’s attic where an alcove looked a lot like a stage – I’d position dolls and stuffed animals in ‘scenes’. When I moved back to Paris as a teenager in the 1980s, I took theatre as an international baccalaureate course and my teacher – now late mentor – helped me discover the magic of theatre. When he took the class to see a Peter Brook production, I was in awe and I have not strayed far away from theatre since.

ART OF ALL KINDS

On weekends, I need to see art that inspires me – exhibits, recitals, concerts, art-house films or galleries. Al Serkal Avenue has a fantastic line-up in Dubai.

HOME IS HERE

My parents moved to the UAE in 1984. I had to go away for higher studies back in those days, unlike today, where universities abound in the Emirates, but I have lived here intermittently since then. I am French, Lebanese, and quarter Spanish. I don’t really know where I’m from. I grew up partly in the US and studied in Canada and the UK but Dubai is home.

RISE OF STAR TOO

During the credit crisis in 2008, I was working in journalism in France. I then heard Theatre du Soleil was holding a special 2009 atelier so I dropped everything and went. I was transfixed by what I learned there and came back to the UAE possessed by the idea of starting an experimental theatre group here and I met awesome people who took on the challenge of creating that together. We had no budget, so we did away with costumes, set pieces, even a stage, practicing instead in the industrial zone, thanks to The Fridge, a great arts venue, using projection instead of sets and bits of cloth instead of props.

INNER CHILD INSPIRES

Pablo Picasso said: ‘Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.’ It reminds me of the importance of always keeping one’s imagination alive.

MIND OVER BODY

I do a physical type of theatre and I love movement. Despite scoliosis, because of which one of my legs is longer than the other, my flexibility is not too shabby.

TUNES FOR MY TALE

Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle would be the pop song that would be the background score to my life because time on Earth seems so short. But if it’s classical music (my preference) then it’s Soviet-Armenian composer Aram Khachaturian’s Masquerade because this piece holds mystery, magic, nostalgia and future for me. My grandfather was a composer and my grandmother a pianist and I lived with my grandparents for a long time, so music is rather crucial to me. I can’t imagine life without it.

IT’S ALL IN THE MEXICO

I love rice and often yearn for corn. I find that combination in Mexican cuisine – my Spanish great-grandmother lived in Mexico most of her life, so I feel a connection there. Among the rare stand-alone restaurants in Dubai, Maria Bonita is a Mexican place where I can also find churros.

GOOD BUYS

Retail actually scares me as a majority of products on the market are made from petrochemicals like polyester or synthetic rubber that I don’t care to have on me. When it comes to shoes, which affect spine and general health, one brand I found that comes close to treating my foot as if it were human is Clarks. So the last time I splurged was there, buying two pairs of shoes (in case I’d never find them again) that actually look a little vintage, very comfortable, and made mostly of natural materials.

RESPONSIBLE TOURIST

It’s not so much time and money that are issues for me to travel; it’s the impact of my getting and staying somewhere that worries me. I’m plenty guilty already but I would feel even worse getting pampered in a paradisiac setting if it means exploiting its people and resources. So, while I’m fascinated by world-heritage sites like Lalibela in Ethiopia or Easter Island, I’d love to be able to visit without leaving too much of a footprint and preferably do something useful when I’m there. I like seeing new things, I just don’t like the idea of tourism.

HAND TO HEART

The word ‘possession’ feels awkward; how can something really ‘belong’ to me? There is, however, one of my mother’s necklaces that I hold dear. It’s a 1960s design of Fatima’s Hand in sterling silver and greenish turquoise. To me, it represents invention, craft, and courage to see things differently. It hangs spread out above my heart depending on how I move.

WAITING FOR BECKETT

It would take a spooky kind of magic, but I would love to spend a Friday asking Irish playwright Samuel Beckett some questions, though I am likely to get on his nerves even in the afterlife.

GARDEN VARIETY PEACE

My happy place is the winter garden, if you can call it that, where my plants are and I can marvel at the way they can express themselves by moving within a five-minute time-span. It’s a tad uncanny but awesome to see.

MY EARLIEST MEMORY

I am in an old-fashioned coach-pram; one with a giant bubbly hood like in Mary Poppins. My great aunt Rose is pushing it down a sandy alley and I can hear the sound of her shoes crunching. I can see her face. I can’t walk or talk yet. I’m not theorizing about anything. I’m purely seeing. I remind myself of trying to simply see, just like that, as often as possible.

I’D REVIVE…

The Concorde aircraft. I know it was a terrible use of fuel but it fascinated me – to travel faster than sound, making it from New York to Paris in three hours. I don’t want the very same model to guzzle fuel again, but I wish the refined technology existed to achieve these goals.

WORD TO MY VICE

My vice is not being able to say what my vice is. Okay, I drink Coca-Cola but just when I’m in work-mode and only if it comes in the award-winning glass bottles designed by Alexander Samuelsson, where the substance, I believe, maintains its medicinal properties as invented by pharmacist John Stith Pemberton in 1886. I loathe drinking out of plastic.

LIVE IN THE NOW

Theatre teaches you to be in the moment. What you see, hear, feel, and who you are with at this very moment is what counts. As far as we know, this is real, and it’s here we can make a difference.

WATCH AND CONNECT

The Ancient Greek word for theatre means a place in which to observe and there doesn’t even need to be a stage. The concept of theatre is important [in today’s world] because it usually implies you physically coming to a place, preferably with others, to see artists who are performing live before you. So it’s a kind of genuine congregation; a vestige of physical reality we can celebrate with others who are there with you, sharing stories that are human.

ABSURDISM

I’d like to have the superpower of flight. I like juggling scarves to meditate before public speaking.

WHY SO SERIOUS?

The last time I laughed out loud was re-reading my answers. I’m a fan of absurdist theatre that way.

Shreeja Ravindranathan

Shreeja Ravindranathan