UAE’s 50th National Day 2021

Photo Cred: Nicholas Chavance

bringing Es Devlin’s floating theatrical experience to life for UAE’s 50th National Day


On December 2nd 2021, the UAE celebrated its 50th National Day with a spectacular floating experience on Hatta Dam in the Hajar Mountains. We were delighted to have been invited back to oversee the technical design and engineering for this ambitious project, which also marked the country’s Golden Jubilee.

Engaged once again by Official UAE 50th Celebration Producer LarMac PROJECTS and a core team of Emirati female creatives, Wonder Works were responsible for helping to bring award winning Artist and Designer, Es Devlin’s creative vision to life. Unparalleled in scale, the 50th Celebration made the seemingly impossible possible, with performers appearing to be walking on water. Centred around a 19 meter high rotating disc shaped stage set in the turquoise waters of Hatta Dam, this stunning sculpture was both a projection surface and a performance area and it was framed by 228 water jets that create another projection screen for artistic storytelling. 

This audacious concept came with its challenges. For the 49th National Day Ceremony, Wonder Works controlled the tides by designing a 4 meter bund around the performance area in order to protect Devlin’s sculptural centerpiece. The artwork was then installed onto concrete foundations that rested on the sea bed. With Hatta Dam reaching depths of up to 20 meters, however, foundations were not an option for this year’s show. Instead the 200 tonne cast stage and 700 tonne grandstand were skilfully installed onto giant floating pontoons and tethered to the bottom of the reservoir to prevent movement in the wind. Ensuring that these floating structures were stable, whilst also allowing for water levels to rise with heavy rainfall, was particularly challenging. And with over 400 tonnes of water sitting on top of the pontoon to create the illusion of a lake on a lake, this major engineering feat took an army of industry specialists over 18 weeks to perfect. Piers Shepperd, Director, Wonder Works said:

Es Devlin’s creative ideas always push the boundaries of what is possible, which is why we love working with her. We are very proud to be part of a trusted team that can deliver such an ambitious concept without having to compromise on the final result.

Set 1.5 hours outside of Dubai in the Hajar Mountains, the remote location and harsh terrain was also a major challenge. Steep roads and loose rocky ground made transporting material extremely difficult and laborious. Thanks to Technical Designer and CAD expert Ben O’Neill, who was on site since the 7th September, Wonder Works were able to capture 3D information of the entire site using the Trimble SX10 laser scanner, allowing the teams to clearly see and understand the terrain in order to make design decisions with confidence.

Having worked on some of the world’s most spectacular ceremonies and large-scale events in the region, Wonder Works’ team of specialists are well placed to provide the technical insight and experience that is needed to instil confidence and drive creativity. With the stakes high, this level of insight proved vital to the success of this unparalleled production, which brought together a trusted team of event specialists to deliver something truly spectacular. Jo MacKay, Director, LarMac PROJECTS said:

Having Wonder Works’ technical knowledge and Ben on site was what enabled me to sleep at night on this ambitious design. No matter the creative, Wonder Works will do what’s needed to deliver the best possible solution – and they’re a pleasure to work with.

The celebration was live streamed to the world on December 2nd, and then open to the public for 9 days starting from the 4th until 12th of December, 2021.

CREDITS: This project brought together many creative minds and world class production specialists including: Es Devlin [Creative Director], Rawdha Al Qubaisi [Creative Executive Producer], Shaikha Al Ketbi [Artistic Director], Maryam Al Dabbagh [Script writer], Raihana Al Hashmi [Voiceover Artist], Kholoud Sharafi [Brand Designer], Ian Greenway [Chief Executive Officer], Jo Mackay [Executive Creative Producer], Nick Levitt [Executive Producer], Siobhan Shaw [Associate Creative Producer], Zoe Gillespie [Assistant to Executives], Julian Bentley [Operations Director], Simon Lachance [Technical Director], Tracy Rivard [Associate Technical Director], Richard Wythes [Infrastructure Manager], Jérémi Guilbault-Asselin [Scenic Manager].

LarMac PROJECTS, Wonder Works, Stage One, Al Laith, Agora, VK, PRG, Crystal Group, Creative Technology, VYV, PA People, Saltwater, GCC, Hawk Marine, iRig, Groupe F, Stafford Cranes, Combifloat, Pixmob, Showtex, Matrix, One Billion, Evolution