Our Working Wonders of the UAE series takes you to some of the country's most recognisable destinations to uncover the daily duties of the talented employees working there
Born and partially raised in the Philippines before emigrating to Canada at a young age, the 54-year-old joined the Franco Dragone production in December 2021.
La Perle is an aerial and aqua circus-meets-cabaret extravaganza featuring daring acrobatics, colourful dancers and stunt motorcycles, delivering the UAE-themed story of a girl and an elusive pearl in a 10-storey auditorium setting with a central pool.
Mr Duazo has lived and worked in 29 countries during a career that has included managing a show in Macau, on China's southern coast, as well as held senior roles in marketing and human resources with Cirque du Soleil.
Here, he tells The National how he weaves La Perle into the mythology of what the UAE is.
How did your current role happen?
The live entertainment industry is a small community, and I used to manage another Dragone show, in Macau, so we always knew what was happening with La Perle.
Right after the pandemic I got the call. I’ve always loved the show and the story about how it was put together. I thought I was going to be retiring, but when La Perle comes knocking, you have to open the door and have a conversation.
I knew Franco Dragone for over 20 years – he created the first eight shows of Cirque du Soleil, basically a whole new art form, before he branched off and built his own company.
This was my first time in Dubai.
Where does the show fit into the UAE story?
We live in a city of superlatives. So, it made sense that, from an entertainment standpoint, you’re going to take a world-class creator, and put together this amazing show.
There are lots of shows around the world. But very few have a bespoke theatre, built specifically.
We’re very privileged because La Perle has an opportunity to be woven into the fabric of the mythology of what the UAE is. I’m very proud of where we are now. But in the history books, I’ll be even prouder of us being pioneers.
Personally … the most important thing is, we’re going to look back at this 20 years from now and say La Perle helped tell the story of what it meant to be Dubai at this point in time.
How did past experience lead to this job?
I had been working in live entertainment for two and a half decades, interspersed with working in public accounting firms, the finance industry and advertising.
My undergraduate studies were in music, as a performer. So, it always came through – wanting to be an entertainment.
Most people who have the honour of being the general manager of a show either come through from the artistic side, or technical side, or come through on the business side.
For me, the concept of showbusiness has always been 50/50. I like doing the business side, but I also love the show part. The commonality among all of us that work in showbusiness is the path is never direct.
But live entertainment won the day?
Passion is passion, regardless of where you are.
When I meet people who succeed in live entertainment, it’s the ones that have the crazy, twisted path that become the most passionate about what we do. I count myself among those people.
What’s interesting about live entertainment is the manifestation of that passion is direct and immediate … but if you’re working in an accounting firm, it’s at the end of the month.
The thing that turns us on is that interaction between artists and audience. When you see your audience being passionate about your show, it keeps building upon itself.
I loved working in advertising and in finance – in accounting. It’s just much more immediate gratification working in live entertainment.
Have you faced setbacks?
I started my career in music, and I was going to direct orchestras.
I was a military officer at the same time I was in university. In my last year, I broke my neck in a car accident and couldn’t walk for a while. I was a clarinet player and my fingers didn’t work.
At that point, you take a decision and say: “What am I going to do and how am I going to feel about it?”
I took a decision to intentionally enjoy what I do. Now I’m very lucky because 200 people work on my show. And on any given day, 200 people are you going to feel really good about what we do. Knowing they have that shared common goal is what leads you to success.
What does your role at La Perle entail?
One is the management of the show itself.
What isn’t seen is what happens behind the scenes. The really cool thing about working on this type of show is that it’s got to look easy, but look dangerous enough for the audience to love it as well. It’s about controlled risk – and balancing that with danger.
There’s the specialist technicians that work in close co-ordination to be able to make an act look easy.
I manage the heads of those specialists to make sure we’re concentrated and the co-ordination goes smoothly. A lot of what I focus on is about ensuring a healthy and safe environment for my artists, technicians and for the guests.
The other part of my job is managing the business. To be the interpreter for artistically what needs to be presented on stage, but the administrative and financial means to get there; I serve as a translator between the artistic people and the business people.
Who is in your prime audience?
I don’t target tourists versus local people or old people versus children – I target people who have an interest in having an experience that makes them feel more alive and dream a little more.
With everything that’s happening in the world, who doesn’t want to take 90 minutes to just escape?
How has La Perle evolved?
This is our seventh year of operation.
As of January, we revised our weekly show schedule so we now perform shows from Wednesdays to Sundays. On Sunday, we have a matinee that opens at four o’clock, and there’s more kids coming in.
The “market” changes every day, every month. And our job is to make sure I have a really good product. The market isn’t static, my show isn’t static either … there’s continuous artistic evolution.
One of my favourite moments is catching the very end of the show as people are leaving, and hearing how they’re talking about it.
What have you brought?
A very small percentage of shows are able to last a long time. La Perle has the legs to be here for many years.
So, I’m making sure that I focus on the longevity of the show, and that the management practices, management team, and the thinking behind why they do the show will last us for the long term.
It’s a timeless story and tourism gives us new audiences all the time.
However, let’s not forget we have four million people that live here and they’re also bringing friends who visit.
What would you say is your biggest task?
We perform the show 460 times a year.
My biggest task is to try and keep it fresh, not just the show itself but for the people who work here. We remind ourselves: “We’re here because we love what we do.”
There are 43 artists, from 22 different countries; that’s 22 different ways of looking at the world, of communicating and interacting.
The vast majority are high-performance athletes. They were acrobats that trained and competed at a high level. The challenge then becomes, how do we help them grow artistically to become a performer?
The next chunk of artists are specialty acts, our globe of death moto-riders, our slack liners, and the lion dancers. They come with years of experience performing in that act … how do we make sure that it fits into the artistic fabric of the show?
The last group of artists are the principal characters – four who are actors, dancers, performers.
I ask 43 people to run a marathon every night … physically, that’s what they’re doing to their bodies. And please smile while you’re doing it – and interact with the audience.
To support them, there are 120 technicians that make sure the show is able to go out. They are as critical to the performance.
Two of my artists just celebrated their seven-year anniversary on the show – they were here from day one of creation. Another artist who was here from then is now back with us as a coach.