There are many things that make the UAE one of the world’s most attractive destinations for tourists and people living in the region. World-class shopping, five-star hotels and year-round sunshine. Performing arts, however, have perhaps lagged a little behind the development of other attractions. Until now.
Dubai Opera; another icon in Dubai and a cultural one too, opened its doors on August 31, heralding a new era for entertainment in the emirate. The new venue already has hosted a wide variety of performers, ballet troupes, finest orchestras, opera singers and dancers in quality entertainment productions. On Saturday, March 11 the Dubai Opera marks its 100th show.
Also La Perle by Dragone, a theatrical, Vegas-style spectacle will take up permanent residence at a purpose-built theatre in Al Habtoor City later this year. Unlike anything to have appeared in the Middle East before, La Perle is the brainchild of one the most recognisable names in live entertainment of this kind, Franco Dragone, a founding father of the iconic Cirque du Soleil brand.
Dubai-based directors are in the process of preparing about two-and-a-half hours of stunts and spectacles, before Dragone himself arrives to sequence and curate the routines into a 90-minute show, which is expected to "soft launch" before Ramadan.
As is Dragone’s speciality, much of the show will take place over water, with a 2.7-million liter "aqua stage" that can be drained in less than a minute for land-bound stunts.
Billed as Dubai’s first permanent theatre show, the 1,300-seat venue will host more than 450 performances a year.
Reflecting on this latest step forward, Dragone said: "Dubai is the laboratory of the future, a crossroads of cultures where 21st century people live. In Dubai, we are living and experiencing what will happen in the world in 10-20 years from now, it’s a city of the future, so that is why Dubai is the right place to do this show."
But how exactly will this arts complex, based in Dubai, satisfy the country’s many artistic cravings?
"In more ways than one," says Liz Koops, the chief executive of Broadway Entertainment Group, which owns the rights to bring major international musicals to Dubai, including Shrek, Beauty and the Beast and Cats. "This is a very exciting time for the country. Residents can now see world-class entertainment in a world-class venue without the need to travel to London or New York. It will also unite nationalities, as families from different cultures come together to watch their favorite shows."
But it is not only residents that Dubai is hoping to attract. Thousands of visitors from across the region and beyond are expected to travel to the UAE to watch outstanding performances by some of the world’s most sought-after artists.
For many, the potential cultural benefits run much deeper than the physical addition of outstanding venues and the enjoyment that the constant stream of shows will inevitably bring. This kind or shows push the boundaries of performing arts and will help to inspire children growing up in the UAE to pursue careers in the performing arts, and that as the demand for specialist teachers increases so, too, will the need for dedicated learning centers and it will encourage children to know that there are options and possibilities in performing arts, which to date have been lacking in the UAE.
Books such as Les Misérables are part of the education curriculum in some schools here and how great is it to be able to see the story come to life on stage in the emirate.
Rashed Al Nuaimi, an Emirati pop and jazz singer, also believes Dubai Opera will create many new opportunities for young people. "If you grow up without performing arts, pursuing a career in the field is a far-fetched dream, you want to do it but it’s too hard," he says. "Dubai Opera will make these dreams so much more realistic. It will bring opportunities and make the spark in children shine brighter."
Dubai Opera and spectacles like La Perle will provide a much-needed boost for smaller venues in the UAE, which could end up hosting more shows to bigger audiences, and will nurture up-and-coming local artists.
Dubai is no longer just a city in the Middle East. It is now up there with cities such as New York, London and Paris. Being a hub of performing arts will give all nationalities the opportunity to share in an exchange of culture, music and art at a time when we desperately need it, because the best way to understand people is to immerse yourself in their cultures.
Dubai already has a big name on the world stage but it isn’t just about shopping malls anymore. Performing arts are part of the city’s growth. It’s another piece of the puzzle.