Wonder Works for 52nd Union Day

Photo: People

On 2 December 2023, the UAE celebrated its 52nd Union Day with a spectacular ceremony at Expo City’s Jubilee Park. Wonder Works were delighted to have been invited back for a sixth consecutive year to provide technical direction, production management and CAD design services for the show.

Aligning with COP28 and the Year of Sustainability, the ceremony was an exploration of the UAE’s sustainability journey. Working alongside Creative Director Es Devlin and creative agency People, Wonder Works was responsible for bringing Devlin’s creative vision to life, which combined captivating performances and innovative production technology to tell the story of the UAE’s rich heritage and its vision of a sustainable future.

Featuring a 72m-diameter, 9m-high revolving theatre of 17 rooms, with the audience and orchestra situated in the centre, the show once again pushed the boundaries of traditional staging. Two 47m-long, 6.2m high automated projection screens were used both as a canvas for storytelling and to reveal individual rooms in the revolve, blending tradition and technology. Sadu weaving formed the threads of the narrative, weaving together scenes that included aerial choreography, two-storey theatres and multi-layered sculptural mangroves.

One of the biggest technical challenges was managing the weight of the revolve. Consisting of 17 rooms of varying sizes, the stage required detailed CAD drawings and weight studies to ensure that the structure could be supported and move reliably. For the ‘heavier’ rooms that contained mezzanine floors, extra wheels were added to the revolve to help transfer the load directly to the substructure. Mounting this 450-tonne revolving theatre was a huge undertaking requiring the combined talents of Stage One, Al Laith, VK and the People production team, all of whom worked closely together to ensure it was a success.

The Organising Committee enlisted the help of sustainability consultancy, The Bulb, to advise on sustainable practices across the production. This included a full audit on energy consumption, carbon emissions, workers welfare and identifying the provenance and afterlife of materials. By putting a robust sustainability strategy in place, the show received ISO 20121 certification, making it the UAE’s most sustainable Union Day celebration yet. This was supported by People and Wonder Work’s ongoing partnership with local suppliers, which enabled the team to use local scenic specialists to supply the majority of the production’s needs.

Production manager, Ben O’Neill said: “Having spent six months working on Expo Dubai 2020, it was an honour to return to Jubilee Park for this year’s Union Day celebration. Working with the same trusted team, we were able to combine tradition and technology to present a unique story that celebrates the UAE’s rich heritage and vision for the future.”