Meydan facing race against time

The opening ceremony, on Dubai World Cup day, will be an array of music, light, film and pyrotechnics which will tell the Emirati story.

23/03/10 - Dubai, UAE -   John Young, Artistic Director of M, bald in black shirt, and Jim Curley, white shirt,  Supervisor of M, have a team of more than 700 people working on the special event production, performance, and presentation for the Dubai World Cup on Saturday March 27, 2010.  (Andrew Henderson/The National)

DUBAI // It has been a tiring and challenging nine months for the 1,500-strong creative army responsible for the official opening ceremony of the Meydan Racecourse. On Saturday afternoon, they will finally see the fruits of their labour. For Jim Curley, the managing director of M, the UK-based company responsible for the opening ceremony, it cannot come soon enough. "When you have been working on something for so long, you just want to do it," he said as he ordered an espresso from the Meydan Hotel terrace after another late night at work. "You live on the adrenalin. You live for the moment. This is probably one of the only businesses in the world that you can be at the beginning and end of something, and being allowed to go on that journey is quite a privilege." He and John Young, M's creative director, have been working on the launch non-stop since last June, when their proposal to illustrate the Emirati story through a mixture of music, lighting, pyrotechnics and film won the account, beating five other international companies. The welcoming ceremony was "a big, visual performance piece that uses the racetrack to symbolise that all these participating nations are here to celebrate the racing", Mr Young said. Performances and music would continue throughout the day, "including performance art and horse art", featuring both local and international talent, said Mr Curley. The cost of the spectacle has not been disclosed. The day for them begins at about 5am and finishes more than 20 hours later as Mr Curley's team solves the logistic and technical challenges of opening the world's largest racecourse in style. "The challenge that was set by the chairman, as well as doing justice to everything, was to create something spectacular but within that void," said Mr Curley. "You walk into the arena and you immediately think of an Olympic stadium or even a grandstand-size space, but it's not - it's two, three, even four times as big as that." The attraction of organising the show was the opportunity to illustrate the history and inspiration of the nation in a creative and emotive way that did not involve breaking yet another world record. "It was a cultural challenge, trying to strike a balance, so that it wasn't just about being the biggest," said Mr Curley. "There is a lot of history in the Emirates. It is a very proud nation and we felt that when you hear about an event in the Middle East it is about having the biggest firework show, for example, and that really doesn't do it justice." Still, records will be set unintentionally, such as having what Mr Curley called "the largest moving, moving image ever used in a show", including a series of vast metal frames lined up at the centre of the course. "Those large frames are projection screens," he said. "They are 25 by 15 metres and there are 15 of them. Then there's the LED screen, which is 107 metres by 10.8 metres. I don't know what all that adds up to, but it must be about 6,500 square metres." It is, the organisers insist, simply another way of producing a show on a 1.6 km stage. Some 750 performers will take part in a series of shows beginning at 3.40pm. In addition to the thoroughbreds competing in the Dubai World Cup, there will be plenty of equine exhibitionism. One hundred Arabian horses will take part in a production that encompasses the racetrack, screen and air. It will be choreographed by 18 trainers from Britain and the UAE, all with Olympic and Commonwealth Games experience. Midway through the event, a more formal, national ceremony will include, what Mr Young mysteriously called, "a unique onstage performance, about music and choreography, something quite special which will be seen for the first time and is about bringing the spirit of Meydan to life". For the finale, the crowd will be treated to Meydan Son Et Lumiere & Pyro, a half-hour orchestration of light, media and fireworks divided into three movements. "The first celebrates the spirit and emotion of the people of the day, the reflection of their emotions, the cheering, that smile," Mr Young said. "The second is a lighting sequence reflecting the calm of the early mornings on the track, the fresh air, and the final movement represents the celebration and the spectacle, which is where the pyrotechnics and moving image really take off. Lighting and moving image have never been brought together at this scale before. It is a stunning piece." Performances by Elton John and Carlos Santana will round off the evening for the crowd, many of whom will be dressed to the nines. Then it is back to the drawing board for Mr Curley's team, as they look toward next year's race. "Yes, the hours are long and it's quite stressful and the one thing you can't buy is time," he said. "We always have those challenges, but we are really looking forward to Saturday. And then we can move on to planning next year's."