La Perle, Dubai’s epic aquatic theatre show, has moved its opening date from December of this year to mid-2017 after a few construction hiccups and rigorous security tests.
But a tour of the 1,300 capacity venue, nestled against The W Hotel in Al Habtoor City, says the attraction will be well worth the wait — like nothing the region has seen before.
Crafted by Franco Dragone — a former Cirque du Soleil mastermind and the head of cultural creation company Dragone — the show is difficult to describe on paper, but Dragone took a crack at it on Thursday morning during a press launch.
“Laser. Human flying. Body falling into the water. Motorbike rolling. People [doing] double [summer]saults. Wheel of death. Performance everywhere. Big sets. The theatre shaking. People walking upside down. Lights — lights are very important,” he said.
Here’s more: La Perle will feature a proliferated dry stage that, in 90 seconds, can be flooded with 2.7million litres of water. In less than a minute, that water can disappear. 65 artists — acrobats, aerialists, contortionists and beyond — from across 23 countries will perform under these changing conditions, telling a story that’s infused with flavours of the Arab world. Most impressively, a diver will jump from a stomach-curdling 35 metres into what is effectively an 11 metre deep, 5 metre wide hole in the ground. They’ll be greeted by a scuba diver who will give them enough oxygen to stay underwater for as long as necessary.
“We, as Al Habtoor, built Burj Al Arab — but I think this was more complicated than Burj Al Arab,” said Mohammad Al Habtoor, Vice Chairman and CEO of Al Habtoor Group LLC.
“[Artists] will be hanging and diving everywhere, coming from under the water and coming from the roof, so that’s not easy to do. They’re not normal acrobats that you see at the malls, they are very professional — this is their job for life.”
La Perle will happen twice a day, five days a week, towards a total of 450 shows a year. Tickets are Dh399 a pop at the cheapest. If all goes according to plan, it will bring in half a million audience members a year — mostly tourists. As the city’s first permanent theatre show, it will put Dubai on the map next to live entertainment hubs such as Las Vegas.
“I was living in Vegas,” said Ani Smith, a former America’s Got Talent finalist and, at 18, the youngest performer of the troupe. Moments ago, she was twisting her leg up behind her ear without batting an eyelash.
“There’s a lot of pressure to make this show the best it can be, but all of us as artists, this is our life. This our whole existence, is creating art for people. And to be able to have the opportunity to give this city something new is amazing, and it’s a dream come true.”
On Thursday morning, a group of performers were scattered around a big, white room to practice in t-shirts and sweats, taking turns doing summersaults on their own or attempting several delicate balancing acts in pairs that require as much trust as they do skill.
They’re currently undergoing ‘training and formation’. In laymen’s terms, that’s ten weeks of pre-training, at an average of 10 hours a day, which prepares their bodies physically for anything Dragone needs them to do. He compares it to G.I. training.
“I’ve never had a complaint from an artist when I yell on them, because I’m always in empathy. We are together. We need to trust [that we are] together. So, tough? Yes. But [I] never [hear] complaining from the people, because they know it’s to reach the other side of the river. Or else, one of us would drown.”
Dragone drops in once every couple of weeks now, but soon, he’ll hold a four week workshop with the performers, and after that, three months of training inside of the theatre. What they’re doing today, he said, is different to the circus of 15 years ago.
“Here, we are in a new category. I would not say that they are freaks, but in a certain way, they are special, because they do something that they’re not used to doing. They approach it differently,” said Dragone.
“The range of emotion is what you need to respect in any show. It has to be a love story. It has to be a fight. But it has to be a party. We need to heal the soul.”
Al Habtoor admitted that he approached Dragone and no one else when they were brainstorming the project. He never felt it was too ambitious.
“As I said, in Dubai, if you want to do something, do it big,” he said. “As we say: go big, or go home.”
*Tickets for La Perle will go on sale in January of 2017.