ABU DHABI // The story of the UAE's development through the years has never been told in such a visually stunning way.
Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation - the centrepiece event of the Qasr Al Hosn Festival - is the brainchild of renowned theatre director Franco Dragone.
The Belgian-Italian has earned his place in history as one of the founders of Cirque du Soleil - the melange of street theatre and circus skills that has become a global phenomena.
Dragone split from the company in the late 1990s, and has gone on to produce equally awe-inspiring shows, such as Celine Dion's Las Vegas concert series A New Day, and most recently the The House of Dancing Water, an aquatic-themed show in Macau.
So Dragone was the ideal choice to develop a grand theatrical performance to mark the 250th anniversary of Qasr Al Hosn, ongoing in the capital until March 9.
He created a show that aims to entertain the audience while also imparting the lesson that one should never forget your roots.
Dragone conveys this message using state-of-the-art technology and modern acrobatics fused with traditional Emirati dance and music.
The story begins as the audience filters into the giant, purpose-built tent in the fort's grounds to be met with a set resembling a desert vista.
Sand dunes are created from canvas, a hooded falcon sits centre stage, and haunting music is mixed with the sounds of swirling winds.
The show kicks off with the arrival on stage of a teenage Emirati boy. It is through his soul-searching journey we learn the history of the fort, his cultural heritage and the growth of the nation.
First he finds out about the discovery of fresh water on Abu Dhabi island and the construction of the fort to guard this precious resource.
Then we see Abu Dhabi's pearling industry represented by acrobats precariously rolling around the stage balanced on giant white "pearls".
Next, oil is struck. In one of the production's most arresting scenes, giant screens broadcast an old British newsreel feature that details the impact of the petrochemical industry on this unassuming coastal town.
The arrival of the modern world brings with it a faster pace to the show. The burgeoning oil industry is depicted as a series of acrobatic routines through giant pipes. Meanwhile, other performers charge around carrying the paraphernalia of construction, including bollards and tools.
Finally, we end up back in the modern day, with skyscrapers and digital imagery adorning the set, completed with a stunning display of remote control planes.
The final flourish is a cascade of glitter that forms the faces of the founding father of the UAE, Sheikh Zayed, and his son and the President, Sheikh Khalifa.
During a press preview of the show last week, Dragone said he had made some artistic changes in recent days, scaling back some of the acrobatics because he felt these distracted from the intimacy of the experience.
The voiceover narration is provided in Arabic, with no English translation. But those who are not familiar with the language need not worry. This is a visual pageant, rather than a verbal tale, so even if you do not understand the commentary you will not feel lost.
Testament to the show's enthralling nature was how it captured the attention of the 400-plus spectators.
Story of a Fort, Legacy of a Nation succeeds in its attempts to fuse tradition and modernity. Whether one views it as a metaphor for the city of Abu Dhabi itself, a celebration of Arabian culture, or just a visually rewarding theatrical production, its impact will be long remembered.