Team leaders describe the show as a baby birthed by Dragone, which they are now looking after and nurturing.
“We are the nannies of the show,” Elisa Petrolo, the head choreographer, said with a laugh. “So we have a certain amount of creative freedom, but the skeleton or structure of the show doesn’t change. Over time though, we have introduced some changes.”
These changes can vary from small details the audience will barely notice —specific movements or the number of people in a scene — to the introduction of new elements requiring the combined efforts of the artistic team, technical team, rigging department, programming, video, lights, and music, which can take up to six months to put together.
The hi-tech theater, while one of the highlights of the show, is also one of the biggest challenges for the team. “The creation came together while the theater was being built. And we wanted to show everything this space could do, so that is certainly challenging,” Petrolo said.
The stage has hydraulic pumps underneath, which allows it to transform from a wet stage, soaked by artificial rain showers from elevated sprinklers, to a dry one within minutes.
The giant mashrabiya-inspired doors suspended from the ceiling — which weigh six tons each — are another highlight, creating instant drama on stage. The control panels for lighting, 3D-projection mapping, and 360-degree sound systems, meanwhile, are like something NASA might have designed, but all are a vital part of the canvas on which the performing artists weave their magic.
The most thrilling aspect of the show, though, is the central pool, from which performers appear — and disappear — as if by magic. A peek into its inner workings reveals that the five-meter deep pool leads to a canal — with breathing stations every 1.5 meters — through which they can enter and exit out of sight of the audience.
The pool is not only a source of amazement for viewers; it has apparently also provided much amusement for the performers. Petrolo recalled an incident during the show’s creation when one of the main characters, Reda — who is dressed in a fat suit, was asked to roll along the ground towards the pool. He obliged, expecting other cast members to improvise and catch him in time. They didn’t.
“Suddenly, there was this big meringue, in his huge king’s costume, floating in the pool,” Petrolo said.
Safety is naturally paramount in shows such as these. All performers are trained divers, and all grips and harnesses are checked and re-checked multiple times before each performance. And, so far, the ambulance that is always on standby has never been required, although the fully equipped first aid center has been called into use a few times, for minor bumps and sprains.
The labyrinthine backstage space is home to a gym, fitness center, and dance studio, and even a fully equipped carpentry studio where most of the props are manufactured.
During non-show hours, there is a relaxed vibe backstage, which has become a second home for team-members (we can only imagine how frenetic it must get during the show, however). Watching the artists rehearse and work out is mesmerizing, as you really get to see the extreme physical rigors of the job, which, during the show, are often masked by all the bells and whistles.
Performers roles are designated according to their individual skills. Age and experience counts for less here than sheer talent.
It’s a lot like a sports team actually. Mornings are typically quite relaxed, and after lunch, the performers start to focus, getting into rehearsal mode; focusing on parts of the show that may need tweaking or improving. Some might choose to work out as well. Next comes the dinner break. And then, it’s show time — five nights a week.
La Perle is a remarkable combination of logistics, machinery and human endeavor. Before the show launched, Dragone described it as a living, breathing entity that is meant to grow from a baby into an adult. Thanks to his talented team, working under his watchful eye, his baby is well on its way to a long and happy life.