When it rains, it pours. And Russian expatriates in the UAE will certainly feel that way this week, with a slew of entertainment events aimed at them being organised in the Emirates this week.
Tonight sees the country’s current heartthrob, pop star and Eurovision regular Dima Bilan, in concert at the Madinat Arena, while schoolgirl duo Tatu (above) headlines a rather eclectic playbill at Dubai Media City on Friday.
Audiences in Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, can turn their nose up at such popular pedestrian fare. The Bolshoi Ballet, that great exemplar of Russian cultural tradition, performs Swan Lake at Emirates Palace on Thursday night. The hotel is also the venue for a performance by opera’s most glamourous face, Russian-born soprano Anna Netrebko, on Saturday. Both acts are in the capital as part of the Abu Dhabi Music and Arts Festival.
“There’s so much to choose from, I can’t make up my mind where to go to,” says Russian sales executive Yelena, 31. “But at least there are things to do now.”
A growing awareness of the Russian market in the country has seen a surge in events aimed at this demographic. “Until recently I did not feel the UAE was ready for ticketed events featuring Russian artists that are open to the public,” says Nadia Ivanova, who has been flying in ballerinas, pop stars and artists for corporate clients in the UAE for several years now through her event company, CCCP, one of the first players in the market.
“In general, we have seen more interest in Russia and Russian culture in the past couple of years, perhaps because of a global wave of rising interest in Russia thanks to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, [billionaire businessman Roman] Abramovich, [oil and gas company] Gasprom and such.
"Whatever the reasons, we are enjoying the ride,” she laughs, adding that there is now a growing confidence in being Russian and in expressing that identity.
“Ten years ago, Russians were shy about who they were; today it is a question of national pride and they are spending accordingly,” she says. Russian nationals have invested in some of the region’s most expensive property, with the country’s media reporting that its celebrities and millionaires are among those looking for a place in the sun in the UAE.
Ivanova puts the number of Russian expats in the UAE – most living in Dubai and Sharjah – at 25,000. But many nationals of former Soviet states also speak Russian, taking the size of that market to 40,000.
Then there is the tourist market. According to local tourist authorities, about 420,000 Russian tourists book into the emirate’s hotels and at least a third of that number visit Sharjah each year.
Both these groups combine to offer promoters a viable target market that has directly contributed to the demand for a Russian-focused leisure product.
Alka Patel, public relations manager at the Fairmont Hotel Dubai, says a Russian food festival last August brought in both markets.
“The event was very popular with the expat community, but we also had a fair amount of tourists coming in and we are considering doing one again this year,” she says.
The UAE is already home to some 20 Russian restaurants, the majority of them in Dubai. Certainly, the cultural tourism that is putting the UAE on the map is making its presence felt in the Russian market, too.
Ivanova says she has already had concierges from many of the city’s premium hotels calling, asking to be informed about similar events in the future, while guests at a Russian Christmas event earlier this year have already made bookings for next year’s installment. And clearly, this new market has money – a finding that is often at odds with popular perceptions of the community. In CCCP’s case it has certainly proved there’s enough demand for quality entertainment.
Alina Gilmanova, general manager at CCCP, says the Dh3,000 tickets at her Dima Bilan event are all sold out – and it is the cheaper, Dh500 tickets that are slower off the block. “Where in the world does that happen,” she asks.
On the flip side, though, it is all good for business, with a slew of brands lining up to reach those top-tier guests. “We have had interest from private bankers, from property developers and from luxury brands,” Gilmanova tells Emirates Business.
CCCP hopes Bilan will bring in a total of 2,000 people, about one-fifth the number of people who attended a recent Celine Dion concert in Dubai.
But some promoters are still hedging their bets. Different Events’ Mohammed Janabi, the man bringing in pop duo Tatu, says the bill for his Hyper Mania show, which includes Iran’s DJ Aligator and 1990s singer Dr Alban has been put together to appeal to more than one target demographic. “I have created the show to reach Russian and Persian audiences, but Tatu is international so I think we will also bring in other nationalities,” he says to Emirates Business.
Either way, the Russian community wants more. Olga Akinitova, marketing manager at a city hotel, says: “It all depends on organisers, but having some Russian pop stars performing in Dubai could be a good addition to the entertainment scene for Russian people here.” (With input by Rachel McArthur)
Dima Bilan plays the Madinat Arena tonight, tickets from Dh500. Tatu play Dubai Media City tomorrow, tickets from Dh222.
Q&A: DIMA BILAN
What are your impressions of Dubai?
I have been here before, it is a wonderful place not only for work but also for holiday.
What can we expect from your set? Can we expect some English songs?
First and foremost I am expecting to experience positive energy from the audience. I will sing my hits in English: Never Let You Go, Number One Fan and Impossible Is Possible. And there definitely will be some surprises.
You are Russia’s entry to the Eurovision contest for the second time. Why is it so important to you?
I am a patriot to my bones. Representing my country is both a happiness and an honour. And it does not matter that I am doing it again, the most important thing is that I am in the process, that I am involved. I have now started preparing for the contest.
You are already a well-known name. What will winning the contest do for your career?
(Smiles) We’ll see when I win. The result itself is very important for me. In this world people always want to prove something, and I am no exception. I have further plans and goals if I win – and growing popularity is a natural consequence of winning.
You trained as a classical vocalist. What made you turn to pop music?
Pop music is what people like. To be famous and popular and to make a statement as an artist in show business, we have to follow the rules.
How did you get to work with Timbaland on your track, Believe? What is he like to work with?
He is a real guru. And that says it all. There is an incredible ambience in his studio, such aura… it’s impossible to describe.
One artist you would like to collaborate with? Why?
Whitney Houston. I just love her.
What music is comfort music to you? What do you listen to at the end of a long day?
I like different genres: Simply Red, Jamiroquai, Zventa Sventana, all kinds of music. I am also listening to my own songs from the new Russian album, which I am working on. I am completely involved in the process, all the work is done under my supervision, I am checking and controlling everything myself.
From Tatu to Bolshoi Ballet...