Day in the Life: The Theatre of Digital Art boss that keeps Dubai's cultural scene buzzing

Daria Prodaevich oversees a creative centre hosting everything from hologram-led Van Vogh displays to immersive digital shows

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A Day in the Life allows you to step into the shoes of a UAE resident to experience a typical 24 hours in their work and home life

Three years ago Dubai’s Madinat Theatre was reinvented as the immersive Theatre of Digital Art (Toda).

Daria Prodaevich joined as art director in 2021 with the task of broadening the concept beyond showcasing classical art through technology.

Now, as managing director, she oversees a creative centre hosting everything from hologram-led Van Gogh displays, meditation sessions and innovative product launches to visually collaborative jazz and classical music concerts.

The 29 year old grew up in Moscow, where she gave museum tours, acted and completed a master's in cultural studies.

She also worked in PR, HR and operations before her artistic passions prompted her to seek work in Dubai, where she had family.

Ms Prodaevich takes The National through her typical day.

7am: Canine alarm call

The alarm is set but Italian greyhound Grey sometimes takes the initiative.

“He stays in another room at night, but usually I wake up to him scratching at the door,” she says. “After his walk, I do yoga for 40 mins and then have breakfast.”

Work is a 10-minute drive from home in Barsha Heights.

Ms Prodaevich, a lover of culture, history and old architecture, didn’t warm to Dubai on previous holiday visits.

“Then I realised Dubai is a fantastic city, growing really fast at the forefront of technological development.

“While a lot of countries in Europe, the US and Russia have their history and culture, they’re maybe not so audacious when it comes to innovation and technology.

“I realised that by developing Toda, I could contribute to a developing local cultural scene. We were the first to launch an immersive digital art/NFT exhibition in November 2021.”

9-10am: Arrive and switch on

Ahead of Toda opening, Ms Prodaevich greets members of her team of 30 and watches filming of rehearsals for future shows.

“If we’re bringing a project with an interesting visual collaboration we create a video to market on social media and adverts,” she says.

Ms Prodaevich saw a “huge opportunity” on her appointment to develop something new at Toda, experimenting beyond its initial brief.

“The concept when it opened was different,” she says.

“We didn’t have anybody to create programmes, because originally the idea was just to stay with digital art shows. What makes Toda unique is it’s an immersive hub that can combine different arts in one place.”

11am: Doors open

Ahead of meetings, Ms Prodaevich walks around the venue to check all is fine.

While regular digital art shows still feature – playing each hour thousands of times a year to customers who sit or wander – Toda’s programme now features concerts, theatre, wellness, education, masterclasses and lectures.

“We started combining contemporary art exhibitions and music events, and then decided to combine music and contemporary art. Now we have regular concerts.

“We are evolving.”

12.30pm: Digital dialogue

Not all Toda employees are UAE-based so curatorial meetings can take place virtually.

“We launched a metaverse platform – sometimes we meet there because some employees are working from abroad and they have an avatar who can talk and walk around,” explains Ms Prodaevich.

“Our vision is to enrich UAE’s cultural landscape. We can contribute by not only presenting arts, but also representing international or local theatre, international or local musicians.

“We invite musicians and suggest they collaborate with digital artists as we work with a lot of digital studios."

2pm: Big cats and dragons

Thirty per cent of Toda audiences comprise tourists, with the rest UAE citizens and residents. The programme is as diverse as the demographic.

“There are a lot of families, especially for digital shows. We’re currently preparing for The Wizard Of Oz,” says Ms Prodaevich.

Her diary can include inspecting a private event set-up, such as corporate activations.

Some ideas cannot happen, such as when a company wanted to bring a live jaguar.

“They replaced it with CGI,” recalls Ms Prodaevich, who cites a launch of Games of Thrones prequel series House of the Dragon as a highlight; Toda transformed into a dungeon with fiery images of dragons while knights roamed.

“Some clients do something absolutely amazing,” she says, such as when luxury brand Mont Blanc transformed Toda into the Orient Express for an "on-board" dinner.

3pm: Feedback with feeling

Ms Prodaevich spends time with the tech team, offering input as a visual concert is readied.

“A good manager is defined by her team and my team is amazing,” she says.

Defining an evolving Toda for the public is less simple.

“We had several brainstorming sessions … we wanted to stay flexible and open to creators. We have rules for what kind of programmes we can bring, but there is a lot of freedom of exploration,” says Ms Prodaevich, who is putting finishing touches to a November-March theatre season with acts chosen based on skills and cultural diversity.

Audiences previously experienced Japanese Miyazaki anime-inspired digital artwork sound-tracked by Armenian musicians, AI-generated artworks, and Ramadan calligraphy set to handpan orchestration.

This time an open call brought local and international theatre companies.

"Our goal is to show some hidden gems of Dubai and maybe create something new by collaboration with technology," says Ms Prodaevich.

6pm: Head for the heals

Ms Prodaevich makes final checks behind the scenes if there is a special show.

Or, depending on the day, she might join a meditation or art therapy session.

“Sound healing is really popular here. Sometimes, after my working day, that’s a good way to finish, with the visual effects and sound of water.”

7pm: Concert or commute

Ms Prodaevich weighs up heading for home and dinner or attending a performance, such as Toda’s popular Friday jazz night.

“Sometimes it’s with visuals from our library,” she says. “For instance, a musician plays Fly Me To The Moon and we create a nice scene. We’re trying to embrace different ways to present culture through technology.”

8pm-11pm: Time to dream

A dog walk, some TV, a book or researching possible new shows before heading to bed.

One of Ms Prodaevich’s first bookings was designed to send people to sleep, based on US thematic 1960s concerts.

“People used to gather in summer to look at the night sky, bring their beds and listen to music,” she explains.

“I invited a musician and an artist to create a special combination of electronic music and visuals.

“People were snoring and by the end of the third hour there was different music and art to wake them up. It was a really nice experiment.”

Updated: November 10, 2023, 12:21 PM