Sowing seeds with sound and light: Es Devlin designs the National Day Show

Es Devlin’s design for the UK’s Poem pavilion at Expo 2020 features an illuminated ‘message to space’ to which each of the expo’s anticipated 25 million visitors will be invited to contribute

The official UAE National Day Show would probably have been another live spectacular along the lines of last year’s Zayed Sports Stadium event, but Covid-19 restrictions may have forced a reappraisal that will produce a better show with a much wider reach.

Under the name Seeds of the Union, it’s a live production that will also be broadcast live on TV and online – “making sure the whole country can still engage with a National Day celebration in safety” as the blurb puts it.

The show will take the form of a moving sculpture surrounded by sea and illuminated by digital visuals portraying themes inspired by the UAE’s history and values. “The overarching theme of the live show is one of hope and optimism,” said Khalfan Al Mazrouei from the organising committee.

“The narrative of the show artistically revolves around the growth and transformation of a seed into a shoot and then finally into full bloom, mirroring the journey the UAE has taken in the last 49 years.”

As yet that’s as much detail as we have, though we’re promised “one of the most spectacular productions to be staged in the UAE”.

And the chances of that being true are pretty good; the production was designed by a team of Emiratis under artistic director Es Devlin, and Es Devlin is the go-to designer if you want scale and imagination in your visuals.

Much in demand, she is known for creating large-scale performative sculptures and environments that fuse music, language and light. Her voluminous credits include designing the closing ceremony for the London 2012 Olympics and the opening ceremony for Rio 2016, the UK Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, a lot of high-class stage work for plays and performances at the likes of the NT, Royal Court Theatre and the Barbican (including Benedict Cumberbatch’s rather good Hamlet), and some brilliant music sets – several gigs and tours for The Weekend and Adele (not at the same time), U2’s Experience + Innocence tour, Beyoncé’s Formation World Stadium Tour, Stormzy at the 2018 Brit Awards, Lorde at Coachella …

Despite the somewhat lumpen title, Seeds of the Union sounds like it’s going to be less of a triumphal parade of explicit scenes, more like a work of art – featuring imagination and maybe even a degree of subtlety (albeit with lavish extravagance in the delivery) rather than ramming home a usually predictable and often overstated message. In the lead up to the 50th jubilee year, that would be a mark of adulthood for the nation.

⇧ Es Devlin’s epic Memory Palace (2019) is a huge gallery-filling sculpture that presents a chronological landscape mapping pivotal shifts in human perspective over 75 millennia


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