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Monday, June 17, 2019

Meet Franco Dragone

by Joanna Andrews

© Franco Dragone

La Perle is the latest show created by the highly-acclaimed artistic director Franco Dragone – the creative genius behind the Las Vegas smash hit La Rêve, Macau’s House of Dancing Water and Paris Merveilles at the Lido in the French capital. Joanna Andrews went to find out more about what is being dubbed as ‘Dubai’s unmissable live performance masterpiece’ from the man himself.

Tell us about the story of La Perle and how you came up with the storyline?

The characters we have created are inspired by traditional tales. They take us on a whirlwind of adventures: The Prince of Pearls, a young fisherwoman, the Museum of Ancestors, a giant puppet – all are elements of a story which bring us to a universe, loyal to the spirit of Dubai, but also to a universe where all spectators and artists can face their own emotions. These are the characteristics to the show that we have designed. The story itself is built up gradually through rehearsals - it is like a birth; the finished accomplishment always comes out right at the end.

How long did it take to rehearse your vision to ensure it was perfected?

Developing a show takes a lot of time – especially when it comes to a show of this magnitude. It is very important that my teams and I immerse ourselves in the genius of Dubai, experience the culture of the country that has welcomed us and then try to translate our perceptions into images and movements, which convey these emotions. Only after this, comes the technique, conception of the theatre, casting and finally rehearsals. For La Perle, the entire time of development, constructions and realisation has certainly been more than four years. The project may have crystallised around the construction of the theatre in 2014, but by 2013, during my first contact with Al Habtoor Group while I was working on A Story of a Fort, in Abu Dhabi, the project had begun as I had discovered the fascinating culture of the Arabian Peninsula.

What influences from the region, specifically the UAE and Dubai, are reflected with the show?

I like to say that Dubai is the Samarkand of the 21st century because this city is a laboratory of technologies situated at the crossroad of traditions. One can confront the depth of the desert, lose themselves in the dizzying universe of the malls, be absorbed by the crown or find oneself. It is a land of contrasts, nourished by its past and full of life looking towards the future. I am carried away by this permanent coexistence of motion, speed, space, desert and freedom. I hope the show will accurately reflect the feeling of being swept away, of always being at the confluence of seemingly opposing elements that Dubai harmoniously fuses: water and desert, tradition and modernity, the loud and silent.

What is the underlying message of the show? And what are you most proud of?

La Perle will be a poetic, emotional and dreamlike experience, served by a torrent of sophisticated technical innovations. In this sense, with no doubt, it is our most accomplished spectacle. I am very excited that the show is a metaphor for Dubai. We want to provoke emotions from all who encounter, in particular, between the spectators, who come from around the world. I want to make La Perle a pearl, a unique moment in a unique city. I am so very proud of this project as it allows me to take a new step in the creative process, to go further in designing a show that is a completely immersive and inscribed in modernity.

What makes this show unique compared to other shows you have produced?

What differentiates La Perle from all the shows around today is the infrastructure. La Perle is a unique immersive experience as soon as you enter the theatre, with its walls that give you the impression of entering a cave – the spectator understands then that his dream box opens and has revealed unforgettable emotions. They are about to live an adventure, in which the spirit of the Bedouins and the dream merge to create, right under their eyes, the laboratory of the future. La Perle offers the spectator more than a place to show, but allows them to understand – right from the entrance of the theatre – that they are a privileged guest, who will live here a singular emotional experience. Our shows bear meaning, I share the view of Jean Rabasse, the theatre’s designer, when he says the type of shows we create can be related to contemporary art.

I understand the theatre itself is high-tech, what are the unique elements that make the theatre come to life?

The theatre, designed by the magnificent Jean Rabasse and Dragone teams, is built between three hotels belonging to the Al Habtoor Group, near the Burj Khalifa – the location alone is amazing. The 1,300 seats will allow the viewer to be close to the stage. The artists will evolve with the assistance of a video projection device. So many technical innovations give this place its unique personality.

How do you ensure the cast are on top form to perform such a demanding show 2 times a day 5 times a week?

To find the 65 artists that will perform the show, an international casting took place around the world in Cuba, Australia, London, Berlin and Miami to find the jewels of the show, auditioning them in various disciplines, such as dance aerial acrobatics, diving and other more-technical performances like the motorcycles. Then, came the long and hard-working hours of training to ensure the artists to be at a constant high level of performance. Our priority is the safety and security of our artists. Their exceptional physical condition assures the best response to the risk they consent to take at each show. The architecture of the theatre will put the spectator very close to the performers themselves, so close that they will feel the blow of their extreme performances.

What does it involve to keep the cast at their optimum?

We have more than 23 nationalities under our roof; from the very experienced technicians and artists to the younger world-class athletes, where this is their first artistic experience. We are a metaphor of Dubai and a family, where there is rigor and hard work, but also freedom and caring for each other. For me, the communication and the transmission of knowledge is essential; in my relationship with the artists, I always try to understand them and to make them grow and progress. This trust is built during the creation process, up to the launch of the show to offer a spectacular performance.

What do you hope the audience will take away from the show? And what will make them want to come back?

The goal of La Perle is to place the human at a universal crossroad of traditions and future, knowledge and technology, in the laboratory of the future that is the La Perle theatre. We can, with the video projections, immerse the spectator in a synergy that combines the more traditional entertainment with the 21st century technology. What I wanted to create is a convergence of various artistic disciplines with dance, acrobatic, circus disciplines, cinema and artistic assets. I want to offer the opportunity to the spectator to live an emotional and spiritual experience that will last. And this experience will be different when they will see the show again because there is an infinity of perception possibilities.

What are the biggest challenges in a show of this magnitude?

The risk management, of course; every performer risks their life to keep the suspense and the spectator speechless. For example, one of the acts of the show features motorcycles in a Globe. Everything needs to be perfectly planned. Beyond this essential material/ physical dimension, the biggest challenge is to deliver an artistic show that fits with Al Habtoor City.

How did the relationship with the Al Habtoors come about?

In 2013, we premiered A Story of a Fort in Abu Dhabi, in homage to the 250 years of Emirates history and to the Bedouin culture. Al Habtoor Group have been charmed by what they had seen and wanted to create with us a unique show in Dubai. We felt very touched by this opportunity as we wanted to explore deeper this fascinating Emirate that is Dubai, where culture, history coexists to show promises of a future.

What are you next plans?

Vacation! More seriously, we have many projects around the world that are waiting to be launched: the work - my work - never stops. I will immediately do a tour, visiting all of our shows around the globe, like in Macau, where we have new shows in development. Huge shows we have created like those need to be constantly revised and improved so they can last many more years. This is why I never loose contact with them and it also means that I will often come back to Dubai – something I am delighted about.

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