After months of preparation, local-based event promotion company, Flash, teamed-up with Live Nation, to deliver the biggest-budget music production to date in the UAE, Christina Aguilera’s Back to Basics performance.
Christina Aguilera took to the purpose-built stage to perform her 80 minute show in front of a smaller than expected crowd, of just over 12,000 fans, on the lawns of Abu Dhabi's Emirates Palace on October 24.
The show, which was Aguilera's first official Middle East performance, ran smoothly organisers say.
However, some disgruntled fans were claiming the length of the performance, which was not followed by an expected encore, was too short and did not deliver “true value for money” considering they had forked out US $222 for premier tickets and $80 for the cheapest seats in the house.
Despite this, Flash says Aguilera gave the same performance and put in the same amount of time on stage that she did during the US and European legs of her Back to Basics tour.
Although the performance may have ended abruptly in the eyes of the audience, they were not privy to the time pressing issues that were manifesting themselves behind the scenes.
As Aguilera was making her exit from the stage and while fans stood waiting for more; the on-site production crew were ready for the lights to go down, so they could begin disassembling the stage equipment in time to have it loaded and flown-out again within hours to its next destination.
Coming off the back of a very busy UK summer festival stint, production manager Lee Charteris brought his trusty crew of Malcolm McIness (site manager), Katie Maddison (production assistant) and Jane Martinez (artist liason) to help him build and prepare the production site.
Charteris says in terms of touring productions this was one of the biggest-budget and largest show’s that has ever travelled to the UAE.
A Russian Antonov air freighter flew in 17 tonnes of equipment from Kiev where Aguilera performed on October 21, and all the equipment was freighted-out again straight after her Abu Dhabi performance to Los Angeles, Chicago and London.
“It was a big stage production with four female and four male dancers, lots of costume changes, a 10-piece backing band, a large upstage video screen and there was a big central staircase centre stage that Aguilera and the dancers performed around,” says Charteris.
Aguilera, known for wearing provocative outfits in the past, brought a large wardrobe of costumes with her and Charteris says the organisers did not enforce any costume restrictions for sensitivity reasons.
“No costume changes were imposed. That was left up to her to decide. You shouldn’t mess with the artists’ integrity and it was a liberal-minded crowd anyway,” he says.
According to Charteris, Aguilera’s show was the biggest production in the UAE to date, and he says it “upped the ante” of the whole production process, with around 70 trucks required to transport all the gear.
Charteris and his crew took two weeks prior to the show to complete the build and a week post show was allocated for tear-down.
There was a huge amount of equipment and personnel involved in this production and to build a show like this from the ground-up anywhere will always be difficult and hard work, but Charteris was aided by the experience of two prior shows at Emirates Palace.
“Emirates Palace is a high profile venue. The Film Festival was staged here the week before the show, so there were a lot of important people coming and going, which made things challenging,” Charteris says.
“But, we have done the show load-in process two times now with Justin Timberlake and Bon Jovi, so we’re getting better and faster each time.”
He says the labour of the build was made harder by the heat and humidity, but it did not adversely impact the equipment.
This time round, Charteris decided to change and reduce the seating arrangement from what he allocated for Bon Jovi’s show.
“For Bon Jovi we had a back seating block and for Aguilera we introduced a more open plan set-up with side seating blocks and a large standing area in the centre,” he says.
“The reason we changed the seating for Aguilera was because it was a younger crowd compared to Bon Jovi. We had 9000 seats for that show and only 3000 seats, with 1500 in each of the two blocks left to right of stage for Aguilera.”
This allowed Charteris to create a larger standing area for around 15,000 people.
Aguliera’s production pushed the limits of previous shows and it required the construction of a large lighting rig consisting of around 150 moving lights.
The weight of this rig, combined with the large central upstage Nocturne LED screen, proved to be a heavy load to hang.
To support the rig, Production Technology LLC (Protec) supplied a custom built roof.
“We talked about increasing the load capacity of the roof structure after the Timberlake and Bon Jovi concerts because for both shows, the roofing system was at its capacity,” says Charteris.
“We knew we had to start beefing-up the equipment because we have some large shows coming to the region and if we want those acts to come, we have to be able to locally provide the equipment required.”
To add to Aguilera's on-stage effects hydraulically run compressed air tanks fired confetti cannons during the performance, but Charteris says her production team made a decision not to use fireworks in Abu Dhabi as the diva had done on other legs of the tour.
In regards to traffic management, Charteris says a lot of work was done to improve the car park this time.
“We allocated 50 parking officials and traffic police to help streamline the parking and traffic system and we made parking available for 6500 vehicles,” he claims.
“The entrance system we implemented was very similar to what we used for Bon Jovi, but we slightly honed it to include an improved ticket collection area.
“We again provided a bigger entrance area and allocated different entry points with individual lane entrances.”
A second stage running on a separate sound and lighting system was also built on the grounds, which played host to Radio One DJs pre and post show.
To improve the VIP and hospitality areas, Charteris says he created a different set-up than what was used for past shows.
“We built these areas to be more open plan, which included a VIP Saddle Span tent supplied by Wicked Tents,” he says.
To pull the entire production site together, Charteris employed around 1000 personnel working on-site on show day, including 300 security staff and 500 hospitality staff. Aguilera also brought in 45 of her crew to work on the production.
“The feedback from Aguilera’s crew was very positive and over all, the production staff, the security and the management were all very impressed with the level of professionalism demonstrated, the quality of the venue and the high standard of equipment provided,” Charteris says.
“I think we have climbed a really steep hill in a really short period of time in terms of being able to accommodate international large-scale productions in the UAE and that will only continue to get better.”
While, Aguilera’s crew flew in 17 tonnes of gear, Dubai-based equipment supplier Protec was called in to also supply a host of equipment for the show.
Protec’s operations director Rick Wade, says to cater for the larger productions that are emerging on the Middle East entertainment scene Protec has purchased a new roofing system from Total Fabrications in the UK, which has enabled Protec to increase the pay load of its roofs considerably.
Wade says Aguilera’s show gave the new 15 tonne roof its debut performance and that it easily stood-up to the test.
“In total we flew 19 tonnes of gear, including 15 tonnes of lighting, rigging and the Nocturne LED screen hanging overhead from the new roof, while the side wings supported two tonnes of video screens and lighting either side of stage,” he states.
“The previous roof system we were using can handle a load of up to 12 tonnes, so we asked Total Fabrications to beef-up and re-design its extra heavy roof system for us and this is the result.”
Wade says because the roof is new and its tolerance is still tight, it took his team a bit longer to complete the build.
“It took us seven days instead of six to build the roof and three days to dissemble it, but apart from the tolerance being tight the whole processes went smoothly,” he says.
To transport Protec’s sound, lighting, roof and staging equipment, Wade says 18 ten-tonne trucks moved the equipment from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, which was then put together by around 20 of his staff onsite.
Gearhouse Staging Connections was also called in to provide two of Lighthouse Technologies’ Lighthouse R16 indoor/outdoor LED screens on the stage wings, which ran live video footage of the show via three Sony D50 video cameras, while the central 30 panel VIdiCon 28mm V-Lite LED screen provided by Nocturne ran pre-recorded content also provided by Nocturne’s ARTI Playback system.
The audio engineer on the night was Protec’s Edward Ross, who ran a JBL Vertec 4889 Line Array as the core of the system.
To fly the line array, Ross used his intuition and experience as well as AutoDesk’s computer software, AutoCAD, for reference.
“The PA system consisted of 15 of JBL’s Vertec 4889 cabinets per side, with Nexo CD18 subs (eight per side). Supporting this was Turbosound’s TFL 760H and TFL 718 bass for centre fills and outfills,” says Ross.
The whole system was run from eight XTA 448 crossover units running on a network and controlled from a tablet PC.
Protec also provided the monitor system for Aguilera, which comprised 12 Turbosound TFM230 monitors, six TFM330 monitors, four TFL 760H Floodlights and four TFL 718 subs for sidefills.
The monitoring system also ran from XTA 448 units, powered by MC2 amplifiers.
Ross powered the FOH system by 40 of Camco’s Vortex 6 amplifiers and 12 of MC2’s amplifiers. Again, the monitor system was run from XTA 448 units and powered with MC2 amplifiers, which reached peaks of around 103dB at FOH.
Aguilera’s crew brought in their own touring desks, two Yamaha PM5Ds, which ran FOH and the monitors.
So, all Ross had to do was re-position the monitors on a lower section at the front of the stage so they would not interfere with site lines of the performers.
To create the original lighting rig for the Back to Basics tour, lighting designer Baz Halpin collaborated with Peter Morse, while Butch Allen was responsible for the production and set design.
To complement the show’s look and to accommodate Aguilera, her dancers and her 10 piece band on-stage, Halpin says the stage was created as a sideways ‘H’ shape.
“By designing the stage in a ‘H’ shape it allows audience members, positioned left to right of stage, to still be within the action in areas,” he states.
“To accommodate the performers moving on and off stage we allocated several, well positioned entrance points that also allow the efficient movement of the set and the main upstage LED wall on and off stage.”
To complement the array of costumes and the variety of activity on the stage, Halpin says he used theatrical lighting components.
“We used theatrical fixtures positioned: front, back, high side and low boom positions - allowing us to cover every eventuality,” he says.
Martin’s Maxxyz console is the workhorse that drives the lighting control, while media servers, including M Boxes, DoReMis and Nuggets run video content.
To program the show’s visuals it took Halpin and Morse around two weeks, but as the tour progressed he says they refined the programming process.
As previously mentioned, due to the logistics of touring a full scale production, the size of the Abu Dhabi show was smaller than the US and European leg of the tour, which required the set design to be altered.
“During the US and European touring circuit we travelled our own stage, but for the Abu Dhabi show we had to scale it down slightly, which meant we didn’t have all of our props or aerial elements, but we still managed to keep the essence of the show,” Halpin claims.
“We normally tour with a Martin Rig for the Back to Basics tour, but Protec are a Clay Paky company, so we changed the lighting rig to these fixtures. The Maxxyz has a great cloning ability, so it was not a major deal for us to swap fixture types.”
To contend with the tight turnaround times and the logistical issues of touring, Halpin says the rig was designed with a lot of pre-rig trussing, which allows the lighting fixtures to be held within the trussing during transportation.
“To make the whole process easier we also carry all the cabling within the trusses, so on a day to day basis we simply have to make connections rather than running all the cables.”
• 22 x 1 tonne Lodestar hoist
• 30 x 1/2 tonne Lodestar hoist
• 2 x Tomcat Superbeam truss 1m
• 4 x Tomcat Superbeam truss 2.5m
• 13 x Thomas 15” mast section 10’’
• 2 x Tomcat 16’’ mast hinge section 5’’
• 2 x Tomcat 16” mast section 3m
• 6 x Maxi beam 3m truss
• 23 x Maxi beam 2.4m truss
• 1 x Maxi beam 1.2m truss
• 3 x Maxi beam 0.71m truss
• 1 x Avolites 48-Way Dimmer Rack DMX
• 7 x XTBA DMX Opto-isolator
• 28 x Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 575W
• 2 x Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 575W
• 32 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash 575W
• 2 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash 575W
• 45 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200 W
• 1 x Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200 W
• 26 x Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 1200 W
• 2 x Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 1200 W
• 6 x Molefay 8-lite, DWE
• 4 x Strong Gladiator, 3Kw Xenon
• 4 x Strong Truss Trouper, 1.2Kw HMI
• 2 x Strong Super Trouper 2.2Kw Xenon
• 4 x Follow Spot seat
• 6 x DF 50 Cracked oil machine
• 6 x Jem AF1fan analog/digital
• 6 x Starcloth 4m panel, 8m drop
Stage and Roof System
• 1 x 24m x 18 m layer scaffold stage with 6m x 18m wings
• 1 x 15 tonne Total Fabrications Extra Heavy Duty roof:
24m x 21m by 13m high, with 2 x 9m x 6m PA wings
• 14 x Turbosound TFL 760H enclosure (Floodlight)
• 11 x Turbosound TFL 718 enclosure (Subs)
• 32 x JBL Vertec 4889 Line Array Cabinet
• 16 x Nexo CD18 Sub Bass Cabinet
• 1 x Turbosound TFM 330 monitor
• 11 x Turbosound TFM 230 monitor
• 6 x Shure SCL5 in earphones
• 3 x MC2 4-way Amprack (FOH)
• 1 x MC2 4-way Amprack (FOH)
• 2 x MC2 4-way Amprack (Monitor rack with control)
• 4 x Camco 4-way Amprack with control
• 4 x Camco 4-way Amprack no control
• 4 x Camco 2-way Sub Bass Amprack plus Control
• 1 x INT W/LAN - XTA Wireless Kit
• 1 x Audio touch screen laptop
• 6 x Sennheiser EW-300 Transmitter
• 6 x Sennheiser EW-300 G2 Receiver Beltpack
• 2 x Sennheiser A1031 U Antenna Paddles
• 1 x Sennheiser AC-2 Transmitter Combiner
• 5 x XTA GQ600 Dual Band 31 band graphic
• 1 x Multicore 40ch 85m
• 1 x Behringer 4-way Di Box
• 8 x BSS AR133 direct injection box
• 6 x Beyer ST500 small microphone stand
• 18 x K+M large microphone stands 210
• 1 x 6 x Sennheiser in ears packs
• 2 x JBL Vertec 4889 Fly Frame (Large)
• 2 x Yamaha PM5D console
• 2 x Martin Maxxyz console (1 active and 1 spare)
Global air cargo charter broker, Chapman Freeborn freighted 17 tonnes of equipment and arranged a private jet for Aguilera, her family and manager from Kiev to Abu Dhabi.