So, does it live up to all the hype? I checked it out to find out for myself.
The excitement is palpable as you enter the aqua theater, which, in spite of being a 1,300-seater, feels surprisingly intimate with its amphitheater-style design and luxurious seats.
The performance starts in a mellow fashion with a lyrical song and a young girl – who is the lynchpin to the entire story — who discovers a pearl in the “ocean” that is represented by the pool in the center of the stage.
The narrative is loosely woven around Dubai and its pearling history, underpinned by the universal theme of good versus evil. The audience is reminded of the “Dubai” theme throughout the show — whether it is with graphics of construction and skyscrapers, or sequences with an international mix of “regular people just walking around on the city streets” to represent modern cosmopolitan Dubai.
At a more subliminal level, the “anything is possible” motto of the city is brought to life too, in a fun sequence where a performer planted among the audience goes on to perform some seriously amazing acrobatics.
But this is a show where the story really plays second fiddle to the setting; the stage and overall physical infrastructure is as much a star as the performers; fitting therefore that at the curtain call, all the various suspended set design elements too appear to take a bow alongside the artists.
The state-of-the-art technology employed is the real game-changer here, with laser lights, stellar sound, aerially-suspended props and 3-D projections all around the venue, including across the specially-designed walls, coming together to make this a truly immersive experience.
While the pace takes a while to pick up in the show, which runs for just under 90 minutes, it allows the audience to truly appreciate the level of engineering that has gone into its creation.
Not least of which is the “aqua stage,” with 2.7 million liters of water being used per show, not only in the circular pit in the middle of the stage — into which performers take multiple dives from up to 25-meter heights (there are quite a few gasps in the audience when that happens!) — but also in the form of gushing waterfalls and even rain. Hydraulic pumps render the stage water-free instantly too, so the action continues unabated.
In fact, there is always so much going on throughout the show, in different parts of the stage and up in the air, that it can be hard to keep up — your eyes dart from one thing to the other, trying to take it all in and just when you think you have, there is a surprise element lurking in the shadows that you notice from the corner of your eye.
That is probably why Franco Dragone had promised me, in an interview before the show opened, “every day is a different show — you will always have a feeling of not having seen everything.”
The performances are multi-disciplinary, with the 65-strong cast combining dance, acting, acrobatics (both on ground and aerially) contortionism, comedy – and, apparently, diving!
Some of the most awe-inspiring stunts, however, come from the aforementioned “audience member,”’ who does a nifty turn on a rotating wheel, and the cage bikers — there are up to five motorcyclists zipping around in a worryingly-small cage at one point — so that is some edge-of-the-seat thrill right there.
Without giving all the surprises away, suffice to say this sort of thing has to be seen to be believed. So, to come back to the question I started with — the short answer is yes, this fantastical sensory feast that takes the audience back in time, as well as propels them into the future, is worth the hype.
Even if the performances may not be the most extraordinary you have ever seen, this combination of incredible set design and technology with human artistry makes it definitely worth checking out.
La Perle by Dragone runs two shows, at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., from Tuesday to Friday and at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturdays at a purpose-built theater in Al Habtoor City, Dubai.
Movie theater-style snacks and drinks are available for sale. Photography and videos are allowed (without flash).
Ticket prices start at AED 400 ($109), going up to AED 1,600 for VIP tickets (which includes private entry, an exclusive lounge with F&B, complimentary valet parking, show program, and other perks).