“La Perle” – the first immersive aquatic theater in the midst of the desert

In my latest posts, I wrote about immersive exhibitions, museums and escape rooms. This is not coincidental, because the market of immersive products is growing. Today, literally any attraction or show can become immersive.

Imagine: have you visited a performance with fascinating acrobatics under a torrential rain shower? This is not my fantasy. Today this is possible. You just need to buy tickets for the first immersive aquatic performance in Dubai.

I found myself in Dubai by accident. Combining vacation and work, I thought that the performance deserved attention for its novelty. For me, this was an excellent opportunity to test my theories about immersion on myself, in a real environment.

Dubai is a tourist destination known for its extraordinary buildings, the highest skyscrapers, and, of course, the largest malls and all of its “the most”. The desire of Dubai to be first and only in everything and to surprise visitors in any way with unique impressions was fully demonstrated in La Perle.

The conceptualization of the project was given to art director, Franco Dragone, the author of such famous shows as Le Rêve show in Las Vegas and The Dancing Water House in Macau, among many others. To house the show, a special building was built within which the scenic and public spaces were located in an immersive way. The show itself is original and represents a new genre of live performance at the crossroads of varied disciplines. The performance of the circus is combined with dances, choreography and acrobatic jumps. In total, 65 artists from many different specialties and nationalities participate in the show.

The show is equipped with the latest technological solutions: video mapping covering the entire area of the auditorium, laser light, high-quality sound, live music and, of course, the most spectacular and memorable aquatic scene with highly-skilled water effects.

I visited the show in August, in the hottest period of the year, when the streets were mostly empty. To my surprise, the only means of transport to get to the theater was a taxi.

I had not planned the visit in advance. I had read the advertising about this show in the official mobile application and on the posters in shopping malls, where I saved myself from the heat, like everyone in Dubai.

Unlike travelling circus shows, the aquatic theater is permanent. It is situated in the heart of the city in al Habtoor city. The façade, the lobby and the ticket office are completely themed, most of which is full of LEDs showing moving images. Selfie posters and the sale of drinks and snacks are more like cinema halls than a theater lobby. The gift shop also does not differ in originality and variety of sold products.

A very different impression is created when you arrive to the auditorium on the second floor. An unusual organic form with suspended wave-like side panels, and, of course, the oval pool, in the middle of the stage immediately surprise the visitor.

Fourteen rows of seats of the auditorium are placed so that the spectators can have a view of 270 degrees, which is by definition an immersive space. My seat was in the 4th row (the count starts from the top row) and I can say that although the view was good enough, of course, it did not give me the feeling of complete immersion due to the rather large distance to the stage. This did not let me “feel inside” which is one of the essential conditions for immersive environments.

What does contribute to the immersion is the video mapping. The changing virtual landscapes, projected in the scenography, transport you to the various dream environments: a city of skyscrapers, the cosmos or the immensity of water. Each part of the plot is accompanied by a musical piece that gives a special touch to the action. The show harmoniously combines virtual sets, actors’ costumes, music and water effects.

The water deserves special attention, because the stage of the performance is a pool. It is a reservoir that is 7 meters deep and holds 2.7 million liters of water. Thanks to sophisticated engineering solutions, in a split second, the water completely covers the floor and then dries it quickly.

The main scenes take place in the pool. The actors emerge and disappear into the water, some of whom dive from a height of 25 meters. The climax of the show was the immersive rain, which completely flooded the stage and the actors for several minutes.

 

I can say that first 2/3 of the performance are extremely interesting and the time passes very quickly. I watched acrobatics, dancers, diving and motorbikes stunts with enthusiasm. However, later I realized that vivid emotions caused by the immersive effects began to be replaced with indifference and loss of interest. I began to lose the sequence of events. It was difficult to understand what idea the authors want to tell the audience: whether it was a story about a pearl, a young couple, or about a giant doll, or something else.

The desire to understand the reason for these feelings motivated me to start searching for information on the performance. To my surprise, very little has been written about the plot of the show. Many articles described the main idea and rarely gave details.

In one of the articles, Crystal Faith Skinner critically analyzes the plot of the performance. The author, having visited the show twice (in September 2017 and five months later), says that “there are too many ideas thrown into the air … there are no pauses and intervals between different acts” in the show. Although, according to her, the plot improved after a few months, my experience this summer shows that there is still no single storyline in the performance.

As one Tripadvisor user keenly remarked: “Poor narrative thread with a little story” “the narrative thread of the performance is poor and there is no clear story to follow”

P.S. Research note

For me, visiting this performance was an important step towards understanding the nature of immersion. Many recently written scientific articles distinguish two types of immersion: physical and mental.

Physical immersion is associated with our sensory organs and is activated when we are completely immersed in a different environment, such as happens for example, when we are submerged in water.

Mental immersion is created during mental activity, for example, when reading or watching an interesting film.

If one of the conditions is not fulfilled, immersion is called partial. As it turned out, this scientific hypothesis was vividly illustrated by the example of the aquatic theater considered in this article.

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