'The House of Dancing Water': Behind the scenes at the HK$2 billion show
We are watching the cast of "The House of Dancing Water" rehearse before the day of their world premiere. Sculpted male bodies stripped down to small Speedo swim trunks frolic around a huge cobalt pool. They laugh and joke, pushing each other into the water and jumping from Russian swings.
Click the image above for more scenes from the spectacular show
It's a bit like watching the merrymaking of semi-naked Greek gods, their physiques so perfect and their execution of dangerous acrobatic stunts so precise.
But there is a lot at stake. In between the camaraderie of the cast, there is a telltale frown or furrowed brow that betrays the tense anticipation among them.
Macau's most expensive show, which combines water stunts, acrobatics, aerial arts and theater, is about to open, and nobody can afford any mistakes for the gala evening.
"The House of Dancing Water" is the latest brainchild of veteran Vegas show-maker Franco Dragone, the director of Cirque du Soleil's most prestigious shows in the 1990s.
The Cirque has a flailing show -- "Zaia" -- just across the road from House of Dancing Water's theater. Dragone and his investor Lawrence Ho are making sure that Dancing Water will not be a similar flop.
“Franco has personally directed and created this show [unlike his involvement in "Zaia," which was zero] and has really tried to understand Chinese culture. The show has lots of Asian and Chinese elements that can connect with the audience," says Ho, CEO of Melco-Crown Entertainment who opened City of Dreams in the depths of a recession last year.
"The other show across the street was developed in Canada somewhere and could have gone to anywhere else in the world. It really has no link to the Chinese audience."
The Chinese link
In 2008, Cirque du Soleil's US$200 million production "Zaia" opened at the Venetian Macao. Reports late last year said it filled just 60 percent of its seats, leading to rumors about its closure.
"The House of Dancing Water" is riding on a larger investment, US$250 million, which it is determined to gain back by appealing to Chinese visitors and their families.
“I think we’ve actually benefited from our competitor’s show," says Ho. "Having seen some of the things they haven’t done as well, I think we have rectified it this time. We have tailor-made it to Macau and for the Chinese market.
"There are a lot of Chinese mythologies and elements in it. So, I think it is a show that, we hope, the Macau people and the Chinese people will be very proud of."
So what does a show "tailor-made" for Chinese audiences by a Belgian theater director look like? Dragone said coming up with the show was "extremely difficult."
"If I only focus on the narration, I lose the performance; if I give too much space to the performance, I lose the narration ... I want to have a tiny little story."
The tiny story has all this stuff about infusing the seven emotions derived from Confucian beliefs. But really all we need to know is that there is a pretty Chinese princess who is held in a cage by a malicious Caucasian-looking cougar queen, and the dashing Caucasian male lead comes to rescue her.
It's a modern East-meets-West fable.
The rest of it is pure stunt-driven spectacle. The god-like acrobats in our opening paragraph perform beautiful, stylized high dives, aerial arts, and even motorcycle stunts.
The interaction between the actors and the 258 fountains embedded in the theater floor is smooth and seamless, convincing us the water has a life of its own.
Chinese audiences will surely come for the breathtaking stunts alone, and it's not difficult for any audience to associate with the simple fairytale plotline. There is even a group of black actors who assist the male lead in rescuing the princess with their gratuitously animal-like gymnastics.
They are constantly tumbling and dancing around on all fours -- not once did they stand up like a regular bipedal homo sapien. This group of black supporting actors might be a subplot that was tailor-made to appeal to a Chinese audience that made headlines for their misconceptions about people with dark skin.
The bottom line
But the show is not about divides between blacks and whites, as much as it is about black and red. Ho not only wants the show to make money, he is optimistic that it will make his company top-dog in the entertainment sector of Macau. "We have already started to see returns from the show," says Ho, two days before the official public opening.
"Ever since the advertising has gone out to Hong Kong about the show, we have already seen a pick-up in the business, so there is greater recognition of the City of Dreams because of 'The House of Dancing Water' element, so we are already starting to reap profits.
"We believe in Macau and we believe in the long-term growth of Macau, for us, we think the show, from an operating standpoint, will be profitable in a few years, but I think we are already reaping the benefits from the significant buzz that the show has given to us."
Follow us in the photo gallery above as we discover the region's most buzz-worthy theatrical spectacle, "The House of Dancing Water."
Get tickets at www.thehouseofdancingwater.com.