Site visit: La Perle by Dragone, Al Habtoor City

Dubai’s theatre scene is developing rapidly, and taking centre stage is La Perle by Dragone at Al Habtoor City. Jochebed Menon finds out how it’s taking shape

Construction work on the theatre is nearing completion.
Construction work on the theatre is nearing completion.

Al Habtoor City will host the Middle East’s first permanent show, La Perle by Dragone, once it’s completed in mid-2017. The developers of this grandiose theatre have left no stone unturned in bringing a new era of entertainment to Dubai.

Located adjacent to W Dubai Al Habtoor City, La Perle is produced and created by Franco Dragone.

Dragone is known for his work with Celine Dion, Cirque du Soleil, and Macau’s The House of Dancing Water, which is touted as the world’s largest permanent water-based show.

At Al Habtoor City, the theatre director has created a 1,300-seat, purpose-built aqua theatre, which will be filled with 2.7 million litres of water.

Construction work on the La Perle complex began in 2012, Steven Dubuc, construction project manager at Dragone, tells Construction Week.

The complex is a G+6 structure with four basement levels, and houses a reception area, two VIP lounges, a gym, a laundry room, a dressing room, a canteen, a dance studio, a physiotherapy facility, changing rooms, shower rooms, and several offices, in addition to the main theatre.

HLG Contracting was appointed as the main contractor, along with Commodore Contracting for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) works, and Al Rawda Building Contracting for drywall and painting.

Butler Engineering has been contracted for the fire and safety works, while architecture firm, Khatib and Alami (K&A), has been working closely with Dragone Studios on the design of the theatre.

“We have divided the works into two sections: standard civil and electrical works, and theatrical specialised equipment (TSE) works. TSE contracts comprise of sound and lighting systems, aerial performer winches, and the motion-control system,” Dubuc says.

“The control, automation, and mechanical process works were awarded to UK-headquartered Stage Technologies,” he continues. “The audio and video machine work has been contracted to Montreal-based company, Solotech Inc, and the lighting contract has been awarded to Dubai-based Oasis Enterprises. The pool systems and water special effects work has been contracted to Spanish company, Ghesa Fountains.”

Although there haven’t been any significant delays, Dubuc does point out that, since the construction of a theatre is different from that of a regular building, there have been some challenges in the process.

He elaborates: “Building a theatre is a complex process; it is very different from other structures. The main contractor and a few of the sub-contractors don’t understand a lot of the processes and, as a theatre operator and builder, we have to constantly brief and explain why works are being carried out in a certain manner.”

Construction on the complex has been ongoing for the past three and a half years, Dubuc says. Due to geographical restrictions, work is progressing at a slower pace. “We are confined by the three hotels surrounding the complex, with extremely limited access. Getting the steel beams and trusses into position was an arduous process. It did take up a lot of time to get [to] the stage where we could progress with the rest of the construction.”

Given that the total area of the ground floor and lobby is 3,680m², working in a limited space has been a challenge for Dubuc and his team. “Its a very small space and there is a lot of equipment – not only the standard MEP material, but also the TSE, fibre-optic cables, data cables, power cables, power outlets, circuit breaker panels, and other infrastructure fittings. Getting all the personnel to understand the restrictions of working in that space has been quite a challenge.”

More than 500 construction workers are currently employed onsite, with an additional 100 to join at a later stage, Dubuc notes.

One of the most complex processes has been the construction of the aqua stage. “The aqua stage has a spongy floor as it will be wet at all times,” Dubuc explains. “A scenic treatment runs through the stage but, for the most part, it is porous and looks like a checkerboard. The surface of the stage is made up of a product called Chemgrate, which is mostly used in the petrochemical industry.”

He explains: “Chemgrate is made up of a fibreglass-resin type of material that is extremely strong and resistant to different types of chemicals, so the chlorine in the water won’t affect the stage. Under the surface is a 2.7 million-litre pool. It has shallow areas and a 5m-deep area. Performers will high-dive into the pool.”

The theatre also has a 22m scenic tower that can be launched onto the aqua stage. Dubuc explains: “At the end of the scenic tower is a conveyor belt with dual moving tracks that will be used as a ramp to launch artists on to the centre of the stage. When lowered, the conveyor belt will move at a speed of 5m per second.”

The theatre is built at a 270° angle, and has five entrance passages and 14 rows of seating. The seating arrangement will offer spectators different views of the show. “In a standard, Italian-type theatre the seats run in front of the stage,” Dubuc says. “But we have created a 270° angle, so the audience seated on one side will not have the same view as the audience on the other side. The beautiful thing about this theatre is that you can never get the same view – unless, of course, you sit in the same seat.”

Dubuc notes that the dome of the theatre will house an acrobatic catwalk and gates, where artists will be strapped to flying winches as they dive into the water in the on-stage pool from a height of 25m.

“We have used Kevlar rope instead of steel rope – which is very slim, so it’s not visible, but very strong. There is a device that is connected to a pivot point below the catwalk, and is then hooked up to three separate lines and strapped to the artist, who can swing from side to side — we call it 3D flying.”

Construction work is nearing completion, with the seats currently being fitted. Malaysian company, Ferco Seating – which has worked on Arsenal Football Club’s 60,260-seat Emirates Stadium in London, and Leicester City Football Club’s 32,312-seat King Power Stadium in the Midlands of England – has been contracted for the theatre’s 1,300 seats, for both the VIP and general stands.

Once ready, La Perle by Dragone will host a resident show with more than 450 acts per year. Dina Kfouri, marketing director of La Perle, explains that the same performance may run for the next 10 years: “There will be some tweaks here and there but, in general, it’s the same act. That’s the concept of a resident show.”

Kfouri concludes: “The whole concept of La Perle is very new to the region and Dubai. It’s a resident show, unlike a touring show such as the ones that visit the Dubai Opera. Here, the performance is designed for this theatre, and the theatre is designed for this performance.”

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