On Saturday night, after a bout of heavy rain at the Dubai World Cup, Sia gave a cheering, wet crowd what they have come to expect of her — a conceptual art show.
For the entirety of the hour and twenty minute set, Sia held the audience’s attention as she stood — quite literally — in the shadow of her dancers, providing a soundtrack for their interpretive dance routines. Screens played out a nearly identical pre-recorded show (One Million Bullets featured a sobbing Kristen Wiig in her very own Sia wig) that the real-time performers matched move for move. The stage behind them changed colours — glaring red, sickly yellow, and during a nostalgic performance of Breathe Me, the bluest blue. It was in turns beautiful, humorous, perplexing and incredibly touching.
Sia, known as much for being a vocal powerhouse as she is for resisting fame and concealing her face, wore her signature black-and-white wig that covered her whole face except for her chin. Her outfit consisted of a white dress and a gargantuan white hair bow that could give any fascinator in the crowd a run for its money.
The only intelligible words she said during the performance were “hi Dubai” and “thank you very much”. A father in the audience questioned whether it was really her. His son replied, “That’s her voice.” It had the air of wonder one would reserve for insisting Santa is real.
Minimalist furniture — a chair, a desk, a mattress — was carted on and offstage as the dancers, with Sia’s perma-companion Maddie Ziegler at the helm, told stories with their bodies and grotesque facial expressions. At one point, while Sia belted out the David Guetta smash hit Titanium, two performers wearing panda- and bunny-heads battled each other with an oversized pink hammer.
Sia began the show with Alive followed by Diamonds, the Rihanna song she penned — she was once primarily a songwriter — and cycled through most of her ballads, including the Shia LaBeouf-starrer Elastic Heart.
She finished with her magnum opus, Chandelier — Ziegler mimicked her own famed dance routine from the music video — followed by an encore performance of The Greatest. This was accompanied by a subtle costume change on Sia’s part — she exchanged her white dress for a multi-coloured frock. Different hues blended together on the stage wall behind a final five dancers, who were running, panting and dancing in matching skin-toned leotards. The song ended with whisperings from Sia: “Don’t give up. I won’t give up.”
But the Australian pop star had the last laugh during an outro video. Her dancers walked off in real time while a pre-recorded clip showed Zielweger travelling backstage and high-fiving the behind-the-scenes crew, all of whom were wearing Sia wigs.
Finally, the real Sia, dressed in casual clothes with her face showing, congratulated her supposed stage stand-in who sat in a make-up chair wearing a black-and-white wig and giant white hair bow. “Amazing work,” Sia told her, before walking off camera and cackling. All of this, perhaps, an elaborate nod to the name of her last album, This Is Acting.