James Booth is an artist specialising in high-diving and tumbling at La Perle. Featuring a breathtaking fusion of immersive artistic performances, imagery and technology, Dubai’s number one show is influenced by the city’s vibrant present and aspirational future and brought to life by awe-inspiring stunts and special effects that will leave viewers speechless.

Please tell us a little bit about your background and how you got became an artist for La Perle?

I’m 28 years old and I’m from the UK. I started gymnastics over 22 years ago and throughout my journey I’ve competed for Great Britain in an area of gymnastics called power tumbling. It’s similar to the floor tumbling you see in Olympic gymnastics but on a grander scale. Once I finished competing, I moved into the world of performing and circus. I had the honour of performing in the 2012 Olympic ceremonies, Bollywood films, TV commercials and most recently for the Cirque du Soleil as a specialist tumbler. I applied for La Perle as I had seen many amazing pictures and videos of the show and knew I wanted to be a part of it. Thankfully, I was accepted and started work in 2018.

For people who are unaware of the show, can you please tell us a little bit about it?

La Perle focusses on a brave girl called Pearl who is transported through time and space to a mysterious new planet. Here, she meets new characters who guide her through a journey of discovery, romance and danger. Acrobatics and diving are used to enhance the story and create this amazing new world for Pearl to discover. The theatre uses some of the world’s best technology to create a fully immersive experience for guests, including full theatre projection and over 2.7 million litres of water!

The show is quite unlike anything else that you’ll see in Dubai. What is it like to work on such a large-scale production with so much technology?

It was quite overwhelming in the beginning! We have many large departments within the show such as the Scuba team, stage team, lighting, carpentry, rigging, sound and special effects to name a few! What you see on stage is usually the artists performing however all of the departments are working collaboratively behind the scenes to make the show as special as it is. For me as an artist, it’s a privilege to work with such talented people.

What is the process of learning the routines and choreography for a show such as La Perle, which has so many acrobatic elements?

For any new artist joining the team, it takes a while to fully learn the show as most artists are involved in multiple acts. They would sit and watch the show many times to first understand the storyline and the flow of the acts within the show. When it then comes to training, we have a double storey rehearsal room where the artists can be trained for the acrobatic acts, as well as a dance studio where they learn staging and choreography. We have an amazing team of coaches who help each artist through this process.

How often do you train and what kind of training is required for your role in the show?

My personal training is linked to the act I perform most in the show. As a high diver, my body takes a large impact every time I hit the water so the number of dives I do per week is monitored. As we do 10 shows a week, with multiple dives per show, this only allows me to train one dive session per week. Here I will experiment with new dives, shapes in the air and from different heights. Outside the pool, I train my special awareness on the trampoline and do a traditional workout in the gym three times per week. We will also perform extra trainings during the week to work on contingency plans, staging other acts and refreshing our scuba training as being underwater is a large part of my job!

What is it like working in the aqua-theatre where the stage can be flooded and drained in a matter of seconds?

Although I have soaked my trainers one too many times, having a stage that can adapt and transform is really cool. It means we can completely change the atmosphere in the theatre and change the surface we interact with at the flick of a switch. We have 30m waterfalls, huge jets hidden beneath the stage and we can even make it rain! As someone who has always loved being in water, this show is perfect for me, I get to play in one of the world’s most advanced aqua-theatres and call it work!

The show has some rather impressive set pieces such as the motorcycle ball and high dives from a height of 25 metres. Which is your favourite of these to partake in and why?

Because we have a diverse set of acts, I’m in as much amazement as the audience watching, because I have no idea how it is possible! Take the globe riders for example; they fit five riders into a tiny globe, ride 80kph upside down and defy gravity. I’ve watched them for nearly 1,000 shows and every time they finish, I’m in awe.

Personally, I’ve performed in many different acts as the show has evolved. Currently I am enjoying the diving as for me it started in such odd circumstances. When I arrived at the show I was scared of heights. I saw the dive training as an opportunity for me to be exposed to heights and become more accustomed. I never actually started the diving because I wanted to do it in the show. When I watched the show for the first time, I even said to the coach, “You will never see me doing that!” Fast forward 1 year and I now leap from 18 metres, somersaulting into the pool!

Teamwork and trust must be very important when it comes to the acrobatics involved in the show. How do you build and maintain these relationships?

When people say circus is one big family, it really is. We come from all over the planet, sharing the same interest and performing alongside each other doing death-defying skills. Without trust the show wouldn’t happen. We all work anti-social hours and have days off when everyone else is working, so we often relax together outside of work. We work, train, eat and chill together so trust is quickly established!

What advice would you give to someone looking to pursue a career on stage in a production such as La Perle?

Never stop trying. Never stop improving. The entertainment industry is seeing some unprecedented changes right now, so you need to go with the flow, keep training and have faith that the industry will return to normal. When it comes to training, learn as much as you can from people with experience, be diverse in your skills and never stop auditioning and pushing. It will happen one day. I waited six years after auditioning for my first major show. ✤

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