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Sunday, September 20, 2020

A Man with a Vision

by Joanna Andrews

Franco Dragone

Franco Dragone says his best production is always his next creation. The Al Habtoor Group recently announced a partnership with Dragone to bring something “unique” to Dubai. Joanna Andrews caught up with the world famous artistic director to delve deeper into his creative mind.

There’s never a dull moment in the world of Franco Dragone. He is arguably the ‘world’s greatest showmaker’, churning out world-class shows on a regular basis. Yet he is a remarkably humble man. “I always feel pretentious when I say I am an artist because I don’t come from an artistic family,” he says. Dragone is the man behind a decade of probably the best Cirque de Soleil productions; ‘Alegria’, ‘Quidam’, ‘Saltimbanco’ and ‘La Nouba’ are just a few of his best-known creations. He worked for the creative content provider company between 1985 and 1999 and some of his productions are still being performed today. His original work like ‘Ô’ and ‘Mystère’ played a pivotal role in helping turn Las Vegas into the theatrical playground it is today.

But Dragone is not one to look to the past. He founded his own company at the turn of the century – the Franco Dragone Entertainment Group. Thirteen years on, he has best-selling shows in Las Vegas and Macau to his name. The Group will add a new show to its repertoire next year in Wuhan, China. And after that, Dubai will enter the world of Franco Dragone, with the first-ever permanent water-themed show in the region – thanks to a new partnership with the Al Habtoor Group.

Our meeting takes place in a quiet room at a busy hotel in Dubai. He is casually dressed and softly spoken. As we begin to talk about his latest creations, his eyes light up and he speaks with passion and pride. But Dragone doesn’t take the credit for himself. “I think it is very easy to create a show, but it’s really the director’s work that makes the difference,” he says, “I sometime joke that I am a specialist of mayonnaise. There are just three simple ingredients; egg, mustard and oil but if you don’t know how to put them together then it won’t work.”

Dragone is never in one place for too long. He is based in his home town of La Louviere, Belgium, but spends most of his time on planes or in hotels working on his numerous projects spread across the world.

Among his many accomplishments to date are ‘A New Day’ for Celine Dion ‘The Dream’ in Las Vegas and ‘The House of Dancing Water’ in Macau. “I am currently developing the Han Show in Wuhan in mainland China and choreographing a show for the opening ceremony of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil,” he says.

He says, his next show is always the one he loves the best. And he promises something “spectacular for Dubai and the UAE.” He admits the project is currently at the concept stage of his ideas. He presented his initial thoughts to Al Habtoor Group Chairman, Khalaf Al Habtoor in April, and says, “The Dubai show will be something very special and unique.”

He adds, “I really feel that, in Dubai, the theatre will play such a big part of the show. We have created a cave like structure – like a grotto - that will make the theatre come to life and make the audience feel like they too are part of the show. We want everyone to feel like they are a VIP.”

Dragone says he always aims to capture “the soul of a city”, and that’s clearly apparent in his Las Vegas productions and in Macau with The House of Dancing Water; they respect the roots of the countries they are performed in. “You need to have certain courage when you create a genre in a country,” he admits.

But, Dragone has already proved he can embrace culture without compromising artistic talent. He has never settled for anything less than spectacular. He recently had great success with a visual poem he created for Abu Dhabi. His production, ‘Story of a Fort Legacy of a Nation,’ earned him the Order of Independence of the first grade, and was awarded to him by UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The question is, how does he keep churning out these theatrical masterpieces? The Italian-born Dragone, who immigrated to Belgium with his parents at the end of the 1950s at a time of hardship, famously said, “I was born during the crisis and all I ever wanted was to escape from this sad reality. I needed to feed my imagination.” So, it is probably thanks to his early struggles in life that has made the entertainment world what it is today.

“The muscle I trained the most was my imagination”, he says. “When I was a child I began to invent world’s that did not exist just so I could escape. But since becoming a professional it is the opposite; my imagination doesn’t work to escape anymore. I want people to forget about the difficulties of everyday life without making them forget where they came from.”

Dragone says his lavish productions usually take 36 months from concept stage to reality. Dubai and the UAE can’t wait for what promises to be a great partnership as well as a thrilling visual experience that will captivate audiences from far and wide.

“My dream is, that people will come to Dubai to see our show and Dubai will benefit as a consequence. We want to enhance the role Dubai can play to the rest of the world.”

The countdown has begun!

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