ABU DHABI // The centrepiece of a 10-day festival celebrating 250 years of Emirati history and heritage will be "an unforgettable and emotional experience for all who witness it", the show's director pledged yesterday.
Before tomorrow's opening night at Qasr Al Hosn, Franco Dragone hopes for at least five more full dress rehearsals of The Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation.
The Italian-Belgian director usually takes 18 months to produce a show, but had only five to create this one. Nevertheless, he is delighted with the result.
"We have fused the world of art and authentic Emirati history in a way that has never been done before," he said.
From tomorrow, Qasr Al Hosn will be the site of a celebration of 250 years of Emirati history and heritage.
A traditional souq with 60 stalls has been set up around the fort and visitors will be able to see artisans practising traditional Emirati crafts or try a hand at applying henna, palm weaving and telly - a traditional Arabian Gulf style of macramé.
"The Qasr Al Hosn Festival offers an entirely new way for many proud sons and daughters to engage with Abu Dhabi's rich cultural past," said Faisal Al Sheikh, festival director and director of events at Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.
The highlight of the festival is Mr Dragone's 75-minute theatre performance.
The director said he designed the show to "convey the story of the people and this country".
It begins with a young boy walking past the Qasr Al Hosn, not realising the fort's historical significance. He is met by a falcon that takes him on a whirlwind tour, through which he discovers his roots and Emirati values.
"Creating a show based on historical narrative is one of the many exciting aspects of this project," said Mr Dragone, best known for his work with Cirque du Soleil and Celine Dion's Las Vegas show A New Day.
When he was approached to direct the show in October, he felt "honoured and proud", but also scared.
"I didn't want to play on stereotypes; I wanted to be as authentic as possible and more importantly I wanted it to show respect to the people of the UAE.
"I want to focus on what lessons history has taught us that we have to teach our children."
The show uses 48 projectors and layers of fabrics to produce a depth of vision that can imitate a 3-D effect.
"The projectors must follow the fabric, which are like moving screens. It needs perfect coordination," he said.
Using musical elements such as the oud and Bedouin chants, Mr Dragone wanted to showcase everything about life in the UAE - from the fury of sandstorms to the raging waves of the sea.
"I have brought in many acrobats and dancers, but the more I went in that direction the more I felt that we were losing touch with the essence and emotion of the show. I wanted to stay with the images and symbolisms of the culture here."
Mr Dragone calls his show "visual poetry"; a newborn infant that his troupe will nurture and grow every night of the festival.
"This is a live show: it's not like a movie, it's a living thing. It changes and evolves every time we perform it."
He will have five more rehearsals before the show opens tomorrow night, fine-tuning everything from wardrobe to choreography.
"I usually have soft openings to tackle all the issues, but this being a short festival, there is no time to do that," he said.
Tickets for the show start at Dh150 and are on sale at the festival website, qasralhosnfestival.ae.
Musab Al Mahmoud, 35, is looking forward to taking his three children to see the show. "Having a link to your roots is a fundamental lesson you must teach your children," he said.
"I'm looking forward to taking them so they learn a bit about our history and culture. I might learn something new too.
"These kind of shows and hands-on experiences have a way of staying with you. It's not like information you get from a textbook that a child would probably forget once the exam is over. It will make a refreshing change from their usual weekends of video games and watching TV."