Abu Dhabi’s National Theatre recently hosted Zayed and the Dream, a musical extravaganza produced by Lebanon’s Caracalla Dance Theatre. The production is a tribute to the father of the United Arab Emirates, the late Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and also celebrates the UAE’s 37th National Day.

Caracalla Dance Theatre’s production team was led by the company’s founder, Abdel-Halim Caracalla, who trained with choreographer Martha Graham in New York and at the London Contemporary Dance School. In addition to being a legendary figure on the North-African scenario, Caracalla has taken his company to perform in Paris, in London at Sadler’s Wells, and at Washington DC’s Kennedy Center.

Caracalla acted as the production’s artistic director, co-writer, and costume designer, while his son, Ivan Caracalla was the show’s director and co-writer (along with three Lebanese and two -Emirati poets). Caracalla’s daughter, Alissar, was responsible for the show’s choreography, which included the participation of Beijing Dance Theatre, a Spanish company called Carmen Cantero, a local Emirati heritage company, and a Russian dance troupe.

The rest of the key players on Zayed and the Dream’s production team were all Italian, from technical director Lucia Goj, to lighting designer Vinicio Cheli, sound designer Giancarlo Gennaro, stage manager Massimo Nebuloni, lighting assistant Luca Baraldo, and master carpenter Natalino Vitti. The scenography designed by Giuliano Spinelli featured a combination of constructed set pieces freighted down from the Tecnoscena workshops near Rome and virtual scenography by Sergio Metalli’s specialist firm Ideogamma.

Ivan Caracalla explains the challenge of taking on this Zayed and the Dream: “We’re talking about a contemporary personality,” he says. “If you take Alexander the Great or one of the historical greats, nobody who has lived in that time is in the -audience, but here, we’re actually performing to an audience who called Sheikh Zayed its -father.”

Zayed and the Dream’s sound rig was supplied by audio and lighting contractor Wide Angle from Sahel Alma in Lebanon. Sound designer Gennaro used a hang of six Electro-Voice (EV) XLC127DVX three-way compact line array elements, a pair of floor-mounted EV X-Line subwoofers on each side of the stage, and two racks, each with four EV CP3000S Precision Series Compact amplifiers, plus an EV Dx38 loudspeaker processor. Two Klark Teknik DN360 stereo equalizers were used for the main system and two for the self-powered monitor setup, which consisted of four EV Plasma P1 speakers for sidefill and relative Plasma P2 subs, all floor-mounted onstage. A Midas Venice 160 console mixed the recorded music, composed by Mohammad Reza Aligholi, with a feed to a Yamaha 01V console operated by Gennaro, who mixed it with the cast members’ Countryman and Shure wireless mics.

“The main problem was that, for scenographic reasons, we were obliged to hang the two main clusters 80' (24.5m) apart and couldn’t install fill enclosures to cover the front rows of audience seating, which hosted key authorities, including the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi,” says Gennaro. “In spite of this, thanks to the 120° horizontal coverage of the main XLC127DVX, we managed to ensure good sound coverage.”

Cheli’s lighting plot featured both conventional and automated fixtures and included 54 Vari-Lites (a combination of VL 3500 Spot, VL 3000 Spot and Wash), four Barco/High End Systems Studio Color 575M units, 10 Strand 2.5kW PCs, 106 James Thomas Engineering PARs, six Arri 5kW Fresnels, 38 ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (with 10°, 19° and 15°/30° zoom lenses), 32 Spotlight Domino cycs, 18 Spotlight Combi COM 25 PCs, two Studio Due City Color 2.5kW, and four Spotlight 2.5kW followspots. Control was via a -Barco/High End Systems Wholehog 3 and 150 channels of Avolites dimmers, programmed and operated by Luca Baraldo.

Luciano Antonetti of Tecnoscena, referred to as “The Maestro” by the Caracallas, is a veteran of both cinema (having worked on over 300 films) and theatre. “As well as the dunes at the back of the set, we built two large palaces with stairways leading up to them, one on each side of the set,” he says. “They were both [cast] set pieces and turned around to form the inside of the palace gardens. Everything had to be modular, splitting up into sections, to facilitate transport from Italy.”

“We’ve worked with Caracalla Dance Theatre for the last four or five years, including for an event in Qatar, and were involved on this show from the creative planning stage,” adds Metalli. “As well as providing all the projections, we also worked on realization aspects, to conceive and structure the set, interacting with Spinelli and Ivan. The content of the projections was chosen together with the rest of the production team—Ivan in particular—and we also had several meetings with his father. Although a lot of the suggestions were mine, it was definitely a collaborative job.”

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The Ideogamma team started shooting footage for use on the show in August and went back and forth several times over a period of three months, filming riders, horses, camels, and the desert itself for use as a background for virtual replicas of the area’s traditional tents. Content was all shot in HD with the firm’s new Panasonic AJ-HPX3000 camera. “Thanks to its three 2/3" high-density 2.2 million pixel CCDs, it acquires cinema-quality images in full-raster 1920x1080 resolution with 4:2:2 10-bit sampling using AVC-Intra compression technology,” says Metalli. “It has an excellent contrast ratio and extremely cinematographic colorimetry range. Footage would have required some work on the color with our previous cameras but with the HPX3000 is marvelous as-is. It’s a great qualitative leap for our work.”

As well as the footage shot live, there was a considerable amount of historical archive material supplied by Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and Abu Dhabi Media, the center that includes the archives and Abu Dhabi’s TV broadcaster. Footage was previewed and selected at Ideogamma’s Rimini studios, but editing was done onsite, and all the images were processed in one way or another; nothing was projected as-was. Video processing (compositing, 3D, and morphing) was carried out by a team led by Metalli’s son, SFX expert Mattia Metalli, and comprised Ideogamma staffers Giorgio Bocuzzi and Davide Grussu. The team went to the theatre 15 days before the show to edit using 10 rendering machines, plus two servers and another computer on which Mattia, Bocuzzi, and Grussu worked.

The immersive virtual scenography was projected by a total of eight projectors. Six Sanyo PLC-XF47 15,000-lumen units were flown from the light rig and blended to form a single projected image on the backdrop screen. Various scrims were supplied by Peroni of Gallarate, consisting of a 79'x39' (24x12m) Tela Sceno Super backdrop, a 56'x30' (17x9m) black Gobelin 1080, and a 54'x28' (16.5x8.5m) silver Rexor Lamé 850. “The only other projection screen was an 18x12m [59'x39'] gray Spaghetti Events string curtain by Belgian manufacturer Showtex,” says Goj. “Both the scrims and the string curtain—flown near the stage-center scrim—could be raised and lowered according to requirements.” A truss-mounted Christie Roadster HD18K projected on the scrim midway down the set, and a Christie Roadie 25K projected on the proscenium scrim from an in-house position.

Video content was stored on a 4-terabyte NAS server, using Dataton Watchout multiscreen digital production software for playback. Each of the eight projectors had its own dedicated computer built in-house to eventually withstand the rigors of a tour. The computers are based around an Intel Core™2 Duo 6600 processor, with 2GB of RAM, and controlled by a master computer based around two Dell Xeon® X5482 3.2 GHz Quad Core Processors and identical to the system used for content editing and rendering.

In the plot of the Dream, the childhood Sheikh Zayed- is nurtured by seven horsemen, each representing a virtue (honor, courage, justice, etc.), until he grows to embody those values and becomes the man capable of bringing together the Emirates. The scene with the greatest impact on the audience involved these horsemen and was one of the most difficult to accomplish and the only one in which the “spaghetti curtain” was used. The riders had to pass through the curtain on which their virtual counterparts were projected as they approached. “It was no easy task to get the horses, with full traditional decorative harnesses, and their armed riders through the curtain without getting entangled or the horses spooking, but the horse trainer did a marvelous job,” Metalli says.

After the show, General Sheikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, hailed the show as a fitting tribute to a great leader, conferred a First Class Order of Independence on Abdul-Halim Caracalla. This success has been further confirmed by talk of a world tour, under the aegis of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

See this piece in print in the April 2009 issue of Live Design.