The Magic Touch

The team of tricksters known as The Illusionists return to Dubai World Trade Centre
Photographs by Shahab.Nn (Behance.net/shahabn)
Photographs by Shahab.Nn (Behance.net/shahabn)
Photographs by Shahab.Nn (Behance.net/shahabn)
Photographs by Shahab.Nn (Behance.net/shahabn)
Photographs by Shahab.Nn (Behance.net/shahabn)
Photographs by Shahab.Nn (Behance.net/shahabn)

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After intriguing audiences with their spellbinding antics in 2013, the team of tricksters known as The Illusionists returned to Dubai World Trade Centre last month for a second dose of magical mischief.

As one of the newer regions of the commercial entertainment world, the Middle East can lay claim to something that many places with a more colourful history are unable to. While London has seen every cabaret cliché going and Paris is positively stuffed with performers, our region is such a relative newbie to the title of ‘entertainment hub’ that — every now and then — something arrives that has never been seen before.

Last year, The Illusionists filled that slot to a tee, bringing their unique blend of trickery and comedy to the Middle East for a run that proved to be a huge hit with audiences of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs. Now, 12 months on, Alchemy Project and Glow Productions teamed up once more to bring the show back for Illusionists 2.0 — an extravaganza of illusions that promised to be a bigger, bolder reboot of the first smash show.

Mac S. Far, CEO and founder of Alchemy Project Agency, told Sound & Stage: “We had a big success on the first show and we have had long term agreement with the brand to represent them in the region, with a new show and content, in addition to the interest we received from the crowd which led us to host the brand/show again. The show is very modern and focuses on different characters and different textures of magic with stronger representation, production and a stronger show overall.”

But it wasn’t just Dubai on the schedule to host the show, as The Illusionists played to a packed crowd at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi for a week before moving to its temporary home at Dubai World Trade Centre. And, judging by the sell-out success of most nights, the two-city structure worked well.

However, producing such a technically demanding show in two different cities in such a tight timeframe wasn’t without its own issues.

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Far explains: “The venues were very different from one another. Abu Dhabi Emirates Palace Theatre is very close to international theatre standards, however Sheikh Rashid Hall needed much more work for preparations, staging, levelling and creating the intimate and quality-orientated experience for the customers. Also the capacity of the Dubai venue was twice of the Abu Dhabi venue/shows.”

So how did the production team deal with the challenge? Savio Mendonca, managing director of Glow Productions and Events, reveals: “In Abu Dhabi we had four days to set-up while in Dubai we had just two days, which included rehearsals too.

In Abu Dhabi we had to build a ground support structure, as it was a challenge to accommodate the lighting plot on the existing in-house rigging due to weight restrictions. In Dubai it was a challenge as it was a quick turnaround from Abu Dhabi to Dubai — we had a second kit and crew on standby, but still had to deal with the production logistics.”

From a spectator point of view, however, production logistics were far from the minds of most audience members. Based on crowd reaction alone, The Illusionists provided most people with almost two hours of pure escapism and sheer enjoyment.

While there’s no denying that the big spectacles proved to be the major crowd-pleasers, some of the more ‘sleight of hand’ segments and close-up trickery did seem to get a little lost at times — even with 3D screens streaming the on-stage action.

However, due to the size and structure of the hall, this is one side effect that cannot be easily remedied. Although the use of a pretty impressive video set-up (see kit list) brought the action a little closer to the audience, Far explains: “Unfortunately there are no other venues in Dubai that have the same qualities and embedded seat structures, than Sheikh Rashid Hall."

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"The SRH is the closest to the premium theatre experience that we can find in Dubai, however it still lacks many qualities which we, as Alchemy Project, always enhance on our shows to somehow complete the experience of our fans and create a perfect experience for them.”

While Mendonca reveals that delivering the kit required for the video elements was “definitely a challenge itself”, the use of live 3D video did add a unique element. However, for Sound & Stage, the real show-off screen moment came during one particular segment of the show, where one of the magicians appeared to interact with two separate LED screens; conjuring on-screen images into real life objects and jumping in and out of reality and the video world himself.

Mendonca tells us: “The kit included Viss Lighting ES9 panels broken into five screen surfaces, Viss LED controllers VC-820A networked to MBox Extreme.”

While achieving this illusion obviously required some pretty dedicated gear and attention from the crew, the technical showcase turned into a real brain-teaser at the finale, where the magician, Adam Trent, entered stage right behind one screen, then reappeared seconds later stage left behind another screen. It doesn’t sound that impressive, until you realise that there was a gap of at least 10 feet between the two video walls.

While the first thought for most was probably “what the?...”, it was only on reflection afterwards that another question came to light. With such a high level of secrecy surrounding magic in general, how much information were the crew privy to? If a man is jumping through thin air (or sliding through an under-stage tunnel, or hiding behind a strong beam of light, we still can’t figure it out), then surely the people in charge of setting the stage must be fully versed in how it all works and — more importantly — what to do if it doesn’t work?

“The crew and assistants were briefed about the risks involved and the precautionary measures that had to be taken in case of an accident,” Mendonca explains. He continues: “There were some tricks that were only assisted by the artists’ assistants. What happens backstage stays backstage, and communication was never an issue.”

And Alchemy Project were not giving away much more detail when quizzed about the same thing. As Far tells us: “We never know about the tricks and never ask, but we are involved in providing the materials needed for making such tricks happen. One might not notice where long hours of preparation from the production, preparation and execution teams could go into the contents of one magic trick that lasts not more than five minutes.”

So, while we may have not quite managed to get to the bottom of just how the magic happens, the pairing of Alchemy Project and Glow certainly managed to pull another successful show out of the hat. With a kit list to rival most big gigs, the days of simple magic shows seem to be far behind us — now it’s all about the illusion.

Whether it comes down to screens, lighting, a puff of smoke, or invisible in-ear monitors, we’ll never know. But we at Sound & Stage were thoroughly entertained and impressed by one of the more unique stage spectacles that Dubai has played host to in recent months.

However, we couldn’t leave it without asking one more time — just how did Adam Trent manage to jump between one screen and the other within a split second? To which Mendonca finally revealed the secret, saying: “That’s magic!”

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KIT LIST

VIDEO:
- Panasonic 20k HD projectors with a range of mid throw lenses, fly hardware and filter heat shield with rigging
- Harkness Silver Screen 20’ x 11’3” with Stumpfl frame and rigging hardware
- Panasonic AV-HS450 Multi-format Live Switcher w/ AV-HS04M7D 3D expansion board
- Panasonic AG-3DA1 3D Camera
- Mac iMac 20” - desktop computer c/w OSX and i-works
- Blacky projection shutter c/w remote - DMX or switch addressable as 1 thru 511
- Christie Linear Polarisation filters with filter holders and projector mount
- Go-Pro Hero 3 Black w/ Blackmagic Design HDMI-SDI
- Dataton Watchout 5 Media Server for 3D video playback and composition
- Panasonic BT-3DL2550 Production Monitor for 3D monitoring

LIGHTING:
- Clay Paky Alpha HPE 1500 spots
- Clay Paky Alpha 1200 washes
- Elation Platinum 5R extreme beam
- Atomic 3000 Strobe Light
- Robe 575 spots, 15º-30º Profiles,
- Fineart 2500w Followspots
- MA Lighting Grand MA2 Full Console
- MA Lighting Grand MA2 Ultra Light Console
- MA Lighting Grand MA NPU Network Processing Unit
- Airport Extreme wireless router
- MGD Atmosphere, JEM Glaciator X Stream, Antari Jet Fog, Co2 Cryo Jet Heads for effects

AUDIO:
- Yamaha CL5 and CL1 digital audio mixing consoles with RIO Dante stage boxes
- d&b J series boxes, d&b V series boxes
- Pioneer CDJ 2000 cd players
- Ableton software
- DPA headset mics
- Shure UR1 beltpack transmitters
- Shure UR2 Beta 58 wireless handheld transmitters
- Shure UR4D+ dual channel diversity receivers
- JBL VRX 932 boxes
- Radial di boxes and Tempest Wireless Clearcoms

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