As Cirque du Soleil wraps up its Oman début with an incredible run of its performance of ‘BAZZAR’, we meet the mastermind behind the organising team that made it all happen.
Ten days; 57 cast and crew; one world-class spectacle under the Big Top. As the curtain came down on one of the most spectacular shows to come to Oman – the iconic Cirque du Soleil’s ‘BAZZAR’ – audiences were left on the edge of their seats at the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre as the troupe of artists, acrobats, musicians, and performers ‘wow’-ed the crowds with aerial trapeze, tightrope, teeterboard, and acrobatic bike displays; and, for the first time in Cirque du Soleil’s history, there was a ‘mallakhamb’ presentation – a traditional Indian sport in which aerial yoga and wrestling grips are performed on a vertical, stationary wooden pole.
Breathtaking to watch, we’re also marvelling at how it all came together as Cirque du Soleil’s incredible repertoire continues to take them all over the world, redefining how we view the modern circus.
Y sat down with Mac S. Far, Chairman and Acting CEO of Alchemy Project – the Dubai-based entertainment company that has brought the magic of Cirque du Soleil to Oman, to learn how the key to success in the highly-competitive world of entertainment is always to keep thinking big.
Here is an excerpt from our interview:
Y: As Alchemy Project celebrates ten years of bringing the world’s top names in entertainment to the Middle East, tell us how it all began.
MSF: Every time I get asked this question the whole journey flashes back behind my eyes and puts a smile on my face.
The business started over 10 years ago, in the heart of the UAE financial crisis in the summer of 2007 with a very humble beginning, with a series of party and nightlife events under the brand ‘Atelier’. At that time my working capital was approximately US$10 (RO3.8) and the only way up was to perform and succeed.
In June 2007, in Dubai, a friend of mine and I started a series of nightlife parties in Mina Salam Hotel at the Madinat Jumeirah Complex called ‘Atelier’, scheduled to be performed every Friday across a three-room ballroom with a capacity of around 1,500 people. I was just 21 at that time.
Every Thursday evening, with the help of one or two friends, we’d set up the floor, lay the carpet, position the furniture (which we had bought on credit installments, thanks to the trust of a few suppliers), and every Saturday morning, we’d dismantle them again – week in, week out. Against all odds, the project became very successful with around 2,000 guests per week, which was the start of our fame within the industry.
Alchemy Project , as a brand and as an organisation, came to life in 2009 with the help of my twin brother Sia S. Far, and our current Executive Director Miriam Terchova – both of whom contributed greatly to the growth of the organisation and without whom Alchemy Project would probably not be the same as it is today.
The idea and objective behind the brand was to form a more structured entertainment company that could cater not only to nightlife and music but also F&B, hospitality and other modes of entertainment.
With hard work, perseverance and performance, by 2012, Atelier, under Alchemy Project’s management, became a multi-million dollar brand, with over 20 live concerts, becoming the largest music festival in the region with artists such as 50 Cent, Neyo, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown, Gorillaz, Faithless, Leona Lewis and many more in its line-up.
By the start of 2013, and our entrance into family entertainment with Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Dralion’, we set a 98,000 -attendance record with that show, making it the highest record-selling Cirque du Soleil show in a two-week period.
Now we operate across four continents and ten countries with yearly growth to two-to-three new markets. We’re currently established and operate in the UAE, Turkey, Brazil, UK, USA, Singapore, Qatar and, recently KSA, Oman, Greece and Egypt.
It’s been an unbelievable journey with lots of hardships, challenges, laughter, tears, success and failures – and every second was worth it.
Y: You have an interesting philosophy behind the name of Alchemy Project, we hear!
MSF: Yes, there is a story behind it! Since we (as a team) had a reputation of taking over failed venues and making them successful, or doing events from scratch in remote locations and making them very popular we related this process with the philosophy of alchemists who, in mythologies, were the scientists or individuals who turned worthless metal or objects into gold, through a series of scientific or mystical formulae and chemistry.
Using the same philosophy in a modern interpretation, and given the history of our performance, we decided to call our work ‘formula’ or ‘alchemy’ by using our own unique ingredients (our know-how, vision, knowledge and attitude) and turning them into valuable and popular projects. Hence, we called this so-called process a ‘project’ which led to the birth of our name.
Y: Tell us how the Cirque du Soleil ‘BAZZAR’ project came about and the incredible logistics behind executing a show of this calibre in the market.
MSF: ‘BAZZAR’ is their latest creation designed to take the magic of Cirque du Soleil to markets that the company couldn’t normally travel to – whether due to the size of the market or non-availability of venues etc.
This show’s objective is to showcase the true essence of Cirque du Soleil, being the talent, the acrobatics, the vibe and music to audiences that may have not seen any Cirque du Soleil shows, or have never felt the true essence of the company in one show. In my opinion, BAZZAR is the millennial product of Cirque du Soleil, designed to further communicate and engage with audience of all ages. The show and its infrastructure are designed to be efficient yet content-full, using the latest technology in show production to make it move faster and easier from market to market. Alchemy Project started our part of the tour in the UAE, moving to Oman, and will continue on to Qatar, Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Egypt.
Y: What makes Alchemy Project unique from other events management agencies in the MENA region?
MSF: It’s both an easy and a tough question to answer and, no matter the answer, it may seem subjective to someone.
In my view, we have a clinical, creative, and academic approach to the business. We live for and love the work. We work twice as hard as our competitors. We never take an opportunity for granted and we never quit trying to become better.
Y: As Cirque du Soleil’s ‘BAZZAR’ wraps up here in Muscat, what’s next in line for Alchemy Project?
MSF: We’ve always said, ‘BAZZAR’ is the start of Alchemy Project in Oman. We have some nice surprises coming up, which you’ll hear about soon.
Y: As a young CEO you’ve achieved remarkable growth with Alchemy Project and the workload that goes into that success must be incredible! What does your average day look like?
MSF: It’s been an unbelievable journey with all of its sweetness and bitterness. My days are full of emails, phone calls, meetings, and conference calls. The business never sleeps.
I directly engage myself in creative work (design) and forming the business vision, feeland look, which helps me grasp the magic more in-depth. I also try my best to dedicate time to family and sports, both of which act as a recovery for me.
We have a great team that helps me accomplish as much as possible and, surely, most of the credit goes to them.
Y: Did you have a chance to take in the show while it was here in Muscat? If so, what was your favourite part of the experience?
MSF: Yes of course! This is one of my most favourite shows of Cirque du Soleil. For me the magic is the music and the dancing combined with the extraordinary talent that creates the intimate feeling inside of the Big Top.
Y: Alchemy Project currently operates out of nine countries worldwide. Are there any upcoming plans for further global expansion?
MSF: We look forward to growing in Central and Eastern European countries, as well as Africa, and to boost our presence in Southeast Asia.
Y: If you could bring one ultimate artist, performance, concert, or festival to Alchemy Project’s portfolio, what would it be?
MSF: Given my day-to-day engagement with A-list titles, shows, and artists, it makes it very hard for me to keep my ‘fan heat’ for a specific artist – but there are people that I, personally, would enjoy working with. In live music, my personal favorite would be working with Adele, Jennifer Lopez, and Beyoncé.
In theatre, Broadway and West End top musicals are always important for us.
Y: What do you love most about the work you do?
MSF: The endless possibilities and opportunities that bring out the best in me and keep the fire of my passion burning and igniting my creativity.
Of course, adding to it, the fun, exciting, and engaging nature of the industry always helps.