A look at what’s ahead for Culture Emulsion – the duo which helped introduce French culture to the UAE

Culture Emulsion, which was set up last year to introduce French culture to UAE's theatre-going public, will be test the waters this season by opening up French plays to a more diverse and foreign-language speaking audience.

Stéphane Brismontier and Cecile Herman, founders of Culture Emulsion. Sarah Dea / The National
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Cécile Herman and Stéphane Brismontier have grown Culture Emulsion from a strictly francophone’s oasis in Dubai to a thriving arts hub that shares their national culture to an ever-wider audience. The duo talk to Afshan Ahmed about what’s next

For Culture Emulsion founders Cécile Herman and Stéphane Brismontier, success is measured by who attends their events.

A year back, the French residents of Dubai recall, the only people attending the productions – brought from France – were friends and family members.

Brismontier says Culture Emulsion, set up last year at Ductac to introduce French culture to UAE residents, now benefits from a more accessible programme.

“We joke about it,” he says. “The first shows we did, about 70 per cent of the audience were friends and family because they would feel obliged and went: ‘OK, we have to support them. Now, we only know 20 people of the 400 that turn up for the productions. That’s a good sign.”

Herman, who has been in the UAE for 11 years, says Dubai was a “desert” when it came to non-English language theatre. “This is where we found our niche because it wasn’t like people didn’t want it,” she says.

“In fact, even when amateur groups were putting up French plays, people were coming to watch. So we thought, why not bring in more professional theatre to the UAE.”

While the company’s calendar – which runs until June next year – kicked off last month with productions hand-picked by Brismontier and Herman from the annual Festival d’Avignon in France, Culture Emulsion will test the waters next year by opening up French theatre to anglophones by translating French plays.

They are also in talks with show producers and professional theatre groups to introduce surtitles to certain productions.

“Our initial pitch was for the French-speaking community,” he says. “Now we are trying to attract more people with diversity in our content and more languages,” Brismontier says. “[Surtitling] is being done with a lot of Russian shows that come to Ductac.”

Brismontier adds that Culture Emulsion have also teamed up with the French Embassy to stage plays at the Paris-Sorbonne University Abu Dhabi.

“For the first time, we will have our first kids show in French and English,” he says.

“This is in cooperation with the French Embassy, where one week it will be held in French at Ductac and then the next in ­English. We are trying to bring the French culture to non-French speaking nationalities. There is a big potential for this, but we need to make sure we do it right and nothing is lost in translation.”

Herman says a March show is also in the works where four big comedians from Switzerland, Canada, Belgium and France will come together for a performance to be simultaneously translates in English and Arabic at Sorbonne.

“It broadens our reach and we are in talks with the artists to see if translating comedy into other languages would work,” she says.

In the meantime, on November 27 and 28, the company will be staging the French children's production Augustin Pirate des Indes, where the audience are taken on an Indian Ocean voyage with a pirate, to discover new places, spices and meet a princess.

The following month, Brismontier will take the stage himself as part of a French ensemble for Un dîner d'Adieu, a drama about a couple looking to clean up their social circle with farewell parties celebrating "friendly divorce".

Culture Emulsion puts up plays and hosts workshops every month. For more information and to book tickets for their upcoming shows, visit www.culture-emulsion.com