Behind the Scenes with Rubén Polendo

NYUAD Theater Professor Rubén Polendo.

NYUAD Associate Professor of Theater Rubén Polendo will make history this March by directing the first professional theater production conceived, rehearsed, and produced in Abu Dhabi. A co-production with the NYUAD Institute, the groundbreaking show will be performed by members of Polendo's New York City-based theater company, Theater Mitu. And while the piece, entitled Chaos, will be the first of its kind in Abu Dhabi, its explorations into a variety of world theater traditions is an act very familiar — and integral — to the work of both Theater Mitu and Polendo himself.

 Theater Mitu has been merging global performance traditions into innovative theater works throughout the world under Polendo (who is the company's artistic director) since its founding in 1997. The company's impressive body of work, comprised of both original pieces and imaginative re-envisioning of classics, has been both created and performed in places as wide-ranging as New York Theater Workshop, Thailand, and Mexico City, and takes many different forms — theater, dance, and opera — utilizing tools learned while studying performance across the globe.

Chaos will combine aspects of Butoh and Balinese puppet work, Japanese Noh, and Arabic clowning, and its creation was inspired by the short stories of Luigi Pirandello, the film Kaos by the Taviani Brothers, and the dance piece Kaos by Martha Clarke. Polendo describes Chaos as a work that explores "what happens — to your beliefs, to family, to love, superstitions, and stories — when home becomes mobile, when it becomes a constantly shifting thing that is no longer just one place." The show will run from March 2-5 and will be performed in a designed space on the Corniche with the Arabian Gulf as its background and landscape.

The question of home as a variable is one that Polendo sees as "not only really moving, but also important to many of us who are here at NYUAD and much of the community as well." It is these types of thought-provoking questions that Polendo — who has led artistic training programs in Thailand and India, and taught lecture and performance courses at NYU in New York, Julliard, UCLA, and Bard — asks each day in his classroom in Abu Dhabi as well.

During the fall 2010 semester, Polendo led a class called Reinventions of Love, which examined romantic love's incredibly varied history across time and culture by examining it in mythology, poetics, imagery, and emotion with projects in fields as varied as photography, creative writing, and performance. Polendo calls Reinventions of Love "part of a greater agenda I have of teaching classes — the denser and more complicated a subject matter that sits at the heart of a class, the more porous it is, allowing students to enter it many different ways." This semester, spring 2011, Polendo will be teaching two more courses: Theater in the Arab World, an exploration into the history of performance in Arab societies, and Making Theater, a class in which students will act as their own performance company, participating in all roles such as actor, director, and designer.

Whether it is teaching inside the classroom or directing on a stage, Polendo will continue to ask big questions. "I think people get behind large, impossible ideas in more interesting ways. Much like Reinventions of Love, Chaos places this large question at the center and hopefully allows both the artists and the audience to enter into it through many different doors."