Expo 2020 opening gala: World's greatest show now open as it happened

Dubai - The spectacle that wowed the world.

By Anjana Sankar, Dhanusha Gokulan, Saman Haziq,Sahim Salim; Photos: Shihab

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Published: Thu 30 Sep 2021, 1:07 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Feb 2023, 9:22 AM

Expo 2020 Dubai's Al Wasl Plaza came alive with music, dance, drama and out-of-this-world projections for its star-studded spectacle on Thursday night.

Khaleej Times journalists were fanned out across the city to capture the buzz and excitement as Dubai put on a show to remember. Here's how it happened.

Latest updates:


Opening spectacle closes with a star-studded scene

All performers of the Expo 2020 Dubai opening ceremony take centre stage after Bocelli's incredible performance.


A moving Bocelli performance

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli sings The Prayer under a 'tree of hope' as Al Wasl Dome transforms into a magical forest.


World-famous stars shine at the dome

As Al Wasl Dome takes Expo visitors across different worlds — from the Milky Way to an underwater realm — world-famous celebrities take the stage.

DON'T MISS: Meet the creative team behind the grand opening ceremony

Chinese pianist Lang Lang mesmerises the crowd with a soulful performance, and then award-winning singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding sings her hit track Anything Could Happen.

American singer-songwriter Andra Day follows with her hit single Rise Up.


A new beginning is here: Sheikh Hamdan

Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, takes the stage and declares the world fair officially open.

“The entire world gathers in the UAE. Today, we witness a new beginning as we inaugurate Expo 2020 Dubai. May God grant us success,” he said.


Remembering the UAE's very first Expo

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Commissioner-General of Expo 2020 Dubai, speaks about the very first time the UAE participated in a World Expo.

At the 1970 Osaka Expo in Japan, the UAE pavilion was inspired by Al Ain’s Al Jahli Fort.

“That happened a year and a half before the establishment of the UAE. What began with utmost faith and cooperation between our founding leaders became the vision that now holds the flag of our nation up high," Sheikh Nahyan said.


Expo anthem echoes across site

Hussain Jassmi, Mayssa Karaa and Almas take the Expo stage and perform ‘This is Our Time’.

As the song reverberates at Al Wasl Dome, a chorus of children fills in behind and around the performance, establishing the importance of the youth in building the future.


Al Wasl Dome bursts with colours

Actors take centre stage at the World's Greatest Show.

A young girl walks to the centre of Al Wasl Dome with a metal replica of the Expo 2020 logo.

Al Wasl Dome is now a kaleidoscope of brilliant colours and patterns.


The UAE leaders are here!

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai; and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, have taken their seats to watch the opening ceremony of the World’s Greatest Show.


The spectacle begins

All eyes are on Dubai — and more specifically on Al Wasl Dome — as the world's greatest show begins. People from all around the world have come together for the spectacle tonight and for the next six months.


VIPs walk into Expo's beating heart

Guests and VIPs are being welcomed into the majestic Al Wasl Dome. They are being greeted by a row of traditional Emirati dancers and artists.

Right at the entrance, Expo 2020 Dubai wows its visitors with how it blended the latest technologies with the local culture.


Excitement felt across the city

German tourists and friends Felix, Ron, Jan, Falko and Fabian are all excited to watch the grand opening ceremony on giant screens at City Walk:

Some residents — like Stacey, Shalima and Gemma — left work earlier than usual just to catch the live stream.

As the ceremony begins, viewers take their spots at City Walk — be it in the square or at restaurants surrounding the area. What better way to have dinner than with the 'greatest show ever' unfolding in front of you?


The big-screen experience

All seats at Reel Cinemas at The Dubai Mall are fully booked. The Expo 2020 opening ceremony is being live-streamed at the cinema.


Live stream wows spectators from around the world

Thousands of viewers have started watching the world's greatest show live on YouTube, Facebook and the Expo official viewing platform Expo TV.

Aerial views of the majestic Al Wasl dome are being screened live from the Dubai Expo 2020 site to eager viewers across the world. We're moments away from witnessing the magical opening ceremony.


Expo buzz spreads across Dubai

The Expo buzz is reverberating across the city! People have gathered around the big screens set up at the City Walk arena.

Some residents, like Kartik K, have travelled from different parts of the city just to watch the live stream from a big screen.


It's showtime

With the sound of the Azan, the divine Islamic call to prayer, the world’s greatest show has begun.


And it begins!

With less than half an hour to go for the grand opening ceremony, Emirati traditional dancers have taken position:

Grand Emirati welcome

A little girl is welcoming one and all to the opening ceremony and spreading some good cheer:


A grand welcome, Emirati style

Watch Emirati performers get ready to welcome guests to the world's greatest show. Here's KT resident Expo expert Anjana Sankar giving us a preview right from the site:


Look: The moment the UAE's Expo journey began

State news agency Wam has shared a video of the precise moment the UAE's Expo 2020 journey began. This is where it all started, when the UAE was announced as the host in Paris back in in 2013:

ALSO READ: Explained: Why is it called 'Expo 2020' when it's happening in 2021?


Dubai connects the present with the future: Sheikh Maktoum

Sharing a moving Expo video teaser just an hour before the world's greatest show officially begins on Thursday, Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, offered a glimpse into how the Dubai is bringing the future to the world at Expo 2020.

DON'T MISS: Are you ready for Expo 2020, asks Sheikh Hamdan as he posts stunning video


Opening ceremony to be streamed live in New York’s Times Square

New Yorkers can catch Expo 2020 Dubai’s spectacular opening ceremony live tonight. The star-studded ceremony will be shown live on the giant screens of Times Square.

Both the 37-metre-high Nasdaq screen and the Thomson Reuters display, which spans 23 storeys, with seven separate screens, will show the opening ceremony for one hour from 2030-2130 GST, which is just after midday in New York.


'Swoop' into the Expo

A video released by the Dubai Municipality captures the Expo 2020 site down to its last detail. The video zooms into the site, offering a swooping bird's eye view of its offerings.

The video is a result of the municipality’s aerial photography of the site. It provides high-resolution aerial images with up to 10cm accuracy.

It was captured with the Geographic Information Systems centre’s GeoDubai aircraft.


The world is waiting!

Over the last couple of days, several iconic landmarks across the UAE have been aglow in yellow in honour of the mega event that will kick off tonight. But it's not just the emirates that are celebrating what is shaping up to be an unprecedented event.

On Thursday, English football club Manchester City took to Twitter to announce that Etihad Stadium had also joined the yellow brigade.

What's more, joining the yellow fest will be the Nasdaq billboard in New York’s Times Square.


>> Expo 2020 Dubai: UAE's most iconic landmarks light up in yellow for mega event


Never-seen-before tech to broadcast 90-min opening show

The opening ceremony of Expo 2020 will use never-seen-before broadcasting technology to beam the stunning 90-minute show, the world fair’s chief events and entertainment officer said.

“We have utilised different technologies for the broadcast that haven't been used in live entertainment ever before at the capacity and the intensity that we're doing it now,” said Tareq Ghosheh, one of the creative brains behind the gala event.

“It will be one of the very few ceremonies that will happen in a garden supported by a dome, which is the world’s largest projection surface. It is supported by one of the biggest immersive video, sound and light systems in the world,” he explained at a press briefing ahead of the ceremony which will begin at 8pm on Thursday.

The star-studded ceremony will be attended by a select few VIPs and live streamed across 430 locations in the UAE.


Finishing touches

Last-minute preparations for a star-studded opening ceremony tonight are in full swing at the Expo 2020 Dubai venue.


>> Look: Expo 2020 Dubai's stunning Al Wasl Dome looks like a dream


Live from Expo 2020 Dubai: The stage is set

KT's resident Expo expert Anjana Sankar talks about the massive effort that has gone into putting together tonight's gala event, while offering yet more sneak peeks of the incredible architecture at the venue.


'Proud of the UAE': Dubai Ruler

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, has expressed his pride at the readiness of the city to host the world's greatest show.

In an exclusive statement to Arabic daily Al Bayan, the visionary leader said, "Once again, the UAE people have demonstrated their unique ability to excel in every task when serving humanity. We have proven to the world the UAE is a fruitful tree that can welcome everyone who dreams of a better future for this planet."

The Dubai Ruler added, "This is our chance to establish an international cooperation system that will benefit everyone, and this gathering is an ideal platform for highlighting the importance of human solidarity and cooperation. This is the unprecedented experience that our world needs."


>> Expo 2020 Dubai to provide unprecedented opportunity for businesses to grow


Towards a better tomorrow

The path that leads to The Sustainability Pavilion (also called Terra) is a promising one!

One of three themed pavilions, it will highlight the urgency of addressing negative environmental impacts caused by human behaviour.

Terra, which means ‘Planet Earth’, will offer an immersive journey through the wonders of the natural world, including an interactive walk through the roots of the forest, where every footstep affects the ‘wood-wide-web’.


>> Inside Dubai's Expo 2020 Terra pavilion that's now open to public

>> Expo 2020: Sustainability Pavilion aims to make a change in people's lives


Cast and crew arrive at the site

With less than eight hours for the gala night to begin, the cast and crew have arrived at the site.

“The anticipation is building amongst the team behind the scenes and those that will perform live tonight,” said Kate Randall.

She said the cast for the 90-minute opening show is made up of 900 performers, who were selected after conducting 42 auditions.

“We also have a huge volunteer cast coming from all over the UAE to be part of the ceremony. In addition, there are 1,000 members that will support the cast across all the creative, production and operations teams.”

She added that a lot has gone into building the show. "The teams have been on the site rehearsing for many months. We conducted two full dress rehearsals over the course of last week. So, everyone is very excited to be here, now that the big day is finally here,” said Randall.


>> Expo 2020 Dubai volunteers complete 40,000 training hours

>> Expo 2020 Dubai: Meet the youngest volunteer, 18; and oldest, 79


Opening ceremony will be a 'magical, multisensory' experience

The spectacular entertainment programme will come alive with the sounds, tastes, experiences — and even smells — of 192 country pavilions taking visitors on a universal journey of unity between the past, present and future. It will be a voyage of hope, invention and collaboration," said a top Expo official.

“We have 11 headline performances throughout the show, right from the start through most of the segments to the end,” said Kate Randall.

International stars participating in the ceremony include famous opera singer Andrea Bocelli, British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding, famous Chinese pianist Lang Lang, artist Angelique Kidjo, and singer-songwriter Andra Day.

“It is really multisensory. I think, sometimes you're not quite sure where to look, whether you're looking up at the projection, you're watching performance on the main stage, or the ceiling and props… all around the pathways. It is magical.”


>> KT Exclusive: Dubai is a place where you can breathe the future, says Expo 2020 star performer Andrea Bocelli

>> Expo 2020 Dubai: 16 star acts to look forward to


Isn't she a beauty?

The iconic Al Wasl dome is an architectural marvel. Also known as the heart of Expo 2020 and the jewel of the site, it features the world's largest 360-degree projection surface.


>> Dubai Expo 2020’s Al Wasl Dome looks like a dream in new stunning photos

>> Final section of Al Wasl dome lifted into place at Expo 2020

>> Video: Expo 2020 dome all red as Hope Probe nears Mars orbit


How Expo 2020 Dubai will officially open to the world

The 90-minute opening ceremony that starts at 8pm is divided into three segments, each around 30 minutes.

“There is a pre-show that starts at 7.30pm. It is an ideal opportunity for the viewers to see how we are building up to the show,” said Kate Randall.

For the main ceremony, the first segment will see guests being introduced to the viewers. “It will be about welcoming the official party into the venue. The second act then starts to introduce all of the participating nations or the countries that will be participating in Expo.”

Following this, Dimitri Kerkentzes, Secretary General of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE), will take the stage and tell the story of how the UAE was selected to host Expo 2020. The AR Rahman-mentored all-women Firdaus Orchestra will then play the BIE Anthem and the BIE flag will be raised, together with the UAE flag.

With the announcement of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council of Dubai, the true spirit of Expo 2020 Dubai will officially open to the world.

“Then we welcome the ‘Flags of Nation’ — all of the participating nations in Expo 2020 and we have an official headline performance to welcome everybody,” said Randall.

Act 2 and Act 3 of the opening ceremony will be a symbol of what is to come over the next six months of the world fair, encompassing the sub-themes of Expo: Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity.


Special immigration counters for families at Dubai airport

Colourful immigration counters have been set up for families travelling through the Dubai International Airport.

The General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) - Dubai tweeted that the colourful counters have been decorated with images of Expo 2020 mascots Latifa and Rashid.

The authority tweeted images of children posing for photographs in front of the special counters.

Read more about the two Expo 2020 Dubai mascots here.


What a ride on Dubai Metro to Expo 2020 looks like

You can take a train right to the heart of the Expo 2020 Dubai site. The Dubai Metro Expo 2020 Station will open tomorrow, October 1, as the region’s first World Expo begins its six-month run.

The Government of Dubai Media Office on Thursday shared a video of a ride to the site:

The Red and Green Lines of the Dubai Metro will offer passenger services from Saturday to Wednesday from 5am to 1.15am (of the following day). On Thursday, the service will run from 5am to 2.15am; and on Friday from 8am to 1.15am. The service frequency will be every 2.38 minutes during peak times.

Route 2020 extends 15km from the Jebel Ali Metro Station and connects seven stations.

The Expo Station is expected to receive 35,000 daily visitors of Expo during weekdays, and the number is set to increase to 47,000 daily during weekends. This number accounts for 29 per cent of the total expected number of daily visitors to Expo.

The stunning Expo station will provide direct access to Dubai Exhibition Centre. Al Wasl Plaza, the beating heart of Expo 2020, is also only a short walk away, according to the Expo website.


>> Expo 2020 Dubai: More than Dh15 billion worth of infrastructure and road projects to serve visitors


What to expect from the opening ceremony

Kate Randal, VP - ceremonies and programming at Expo 2020 Dubai, spells out the running order for tonight's grand opening gala:


Al Wasl will be an 'emotional journey'

The opening ceremony at Expo 2020 on Thursday will be a statement by Dubai and the UAE on how to perfect things — even during pandemic, said Tareq Ghosheh, chief events and entertainment officer at Expo 2020. "What you will see today is very special in terms of storytelling and execution," he said.

He also said that Al Wasl will be an experience that cannot be described in words. Here, he describes how the spirit of Al Wasl will represent Dubai from an 'emotional journey' point of view, consisting of four key points.


How the UAE story will be told

The Emirati narrative during the star-studded opening ceremony tonight will be presented through the eyes of a young Emirati girl.

Amna Abdulhoul, executive creative director, said: “As the first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia, this is our moment to share an Emirati narrative on a global stage while also telling a universal story.”

The girl “observes the challenges of today and represents hope for the future — not just for the UAE but for all generations”.

“As she goes on her journey, we learn important lessons about balance and the impact of our actions. Every detail of the opening ceremony has been developed to blend the authenticity of the UAE without compromising the universality of the narrative,” she said.


>> Expo 2020 Dubai to smash stereotypes of Arab women


'Al Wasl Plaza personifies the story of Dubai'

Tareq Ghosheh, chief events and entertainment officer at Expo 2020, said: “To create an opening ceremony to the standard of Dubai, we began with a sincere passion to tell an authentic story of this land and its people — capturing its principles and beliefs and presenting it at the highest calibre of creativity and technology.

“It is also fitting that we tell this story in Al Wasl Plaza venue that emotionally personifies the story of Dubai in a single place. We wanted to emphasise the historical moments of this nation, capturing its unique spirit and conveying it to a global audience in a way that is meaningful to people of all backgrounds and cultures.”


Opening ceremony to feature 910 artists on rotating stage

The stage is all set for the glittering opening ceremony tonight. Literally.

Here is how the stunning show will be brought to life:

>> 360-degree rotating stage has a performance diameter of 16 metres.

>> Outer circumference of the stage rotates at a speed of 100 millimetres per second.

>> Secondary staging areas nestled within Al Wasl’s garden provide close-up viewing experiences for the audience.

>> The powerful stage lift has a loading weight of 250kg per square metre.

>> The stage and ramps are composed of 28 structural parts.

>> A total of 910 cast members, representing 64 nations including the UAE, are participating in the opening ceremony.

>> The cast appearing in the ‘Arrival of the Participants’ consists largely of Expo 2020 volunteers and workforce — otherwise known as the ‘Expo Tribe’.


Officials from Expo 2020 Dubai prepare for the first media briefing of the day:


Gold! Have you spotted UAE landmarks all yellow?

Landmarks across the UAE are going yellow to celebrate the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai. Our photographers captured some gorgeous shots last night, check them out:


>> Expo 2020 Dubai: UAE landmarks and one in New York to light up tonight


Did you know?

Expo 2020 Dubai is the first world exposition in history to have a policy of ‘one nation, one pavilion’. This means that every international participant has its own pavilion, which countless guests can visit to experience the unique beauty and culture of that nation.

There are over 190 country pavilions at the Expo 2020 Dubai — each showcasing their best in innovation, sustainability, technology, art, culture and much more.


Falcon-shaped UAE Pavilion is ready for take off

Check this out! This is the first glimpse of the incredible UAE Pavilion at Expo 2020.

The biggest pavilion at the Expo, it is shaped like a falcon in flight and spans 15,000 square metres. The structure offers a shaded arcade nestled beneath 28 floating, movable wings that make up the pavilion’s roof. The wings can spread open within three minutes and rotate.

We can’t wait to see this at night in all its glittering glory!


>> Expo 2020 Dubai: Noura Al Kaabi appointed UAE Pavilion commissioner-general


Expo opening ceremony will be a visual treat

The Expo 2020 team has released a teaser video of the star-studded opening ceremony tonight. And from the 10-second clip, it promises to be a stunning sight. Check it out:

The Khaleej Times website will be streaming the opening ceremony live from 7.30pm tonight. Stay tuned!


Revealed: Stars who will perform at the opening ceremony

>> World-famous tenor Andrea Bocelli

>> Grammy-nominated, Golden Globe-winning actress, singer and songwriter Andra Day

>> Platinum selling British singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding

>> International mega-star pianist Lang Lang

>> Four-time Grammy winner Angelique Kidjo

>> ‘Artist of Arabs’ Mohamed Abdo

>> Emirati singing sensation ‘Fananat Al Arab’ Ahlam Alshamsi

>> Emirati artist and Expo 2020 Dubai Ambassador Hussain Al Jassmi

>> UAE singer-songwriter Almas

>> Grammy-nominated Lebanese-American singer Mayssa Karaa

ALSO READ: This Is Our Time singer Mayssa Karaa lifts lid on Expo 2020 Dubai anthem


First look: The stunning Al Wasl Dome at Expo 2020 Dubai

As you walk into the Expo 2020 venue, you are almost automatically drawn to the iconic Al Wasl Dome. The circular structure rises amid all the other stunning architecture that dots the 4.38-square-km site.

Referred to as the ‘beating heart’ of the Expo 2020 site, Al Wasl Plaza connects the three thematic districts at the venue.


Win Expo 2020 passes, cameras in new RTA contest

Dubai’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has announced the launch of a photography contest to mark the opening of Expo 2020, offering participants to win cameras and passes to enter the world’s greatest show.

To make participation easier for the public, the contest has been divided into three phases.

Phase I will mark Public Transport Day and will be launched in October to encourage people to make public transport their first mobility choice in travelling from their locations to Expo site. The journey covers a ride on Route 2020 of Dubai Metro, and Expo Riders.

Phase II of the contest will be launched in November. Participants will be required to shoot the city’s landmarks and eye-catching localities they come across while travelling to the site of Expo. This phase is focused on constructed road networks, flyovers, and service roads.

The third phase will be launched in January and marks the final stage of the photography contest. It focuses on the tourist attractions open for visitors, where tourists can make cultural tours, and savour visiting squares and world-class malls.


Official app to plan your trip

With less than 14 hours for the official opening of the mega fever, the Expo 2020 fever is taking over Dubai. Worried about navigating the world fair venue that is the size of 600 football fields? No need to!

Expo 2020 Dubai has launched its official visitor app and a business-focused app, helping to ensure that millions of visitors can make the most of the 182 visually-striking and emotionally-inspiring days of the mega event.

The official Expo 2020 app allows users to tailor their visit to Expo and match individual interests to create a personal schedule of events and attractions across the site that is twice the size of Monaco.

Visitors can use the app to buy tickets, choose from more than 200 dining options and themed culinary events, and manage reservations for Expo 2020’s intelligent Smart Queue system – offering guests the ability to reserve a convenient time slot to visit a pavilion of their choice, and avoid queues.

The app is available to download via the App Store or Google Play. It will allow visitors to create an Expo 2020 account or link their social media account, as well as access a GPS-enabled interactive map of the Expo site and step-by-step directions to points of interest across Expo.

A chatbot on the app will provide information on making visits to Expo 2020 safe and enjoyable, including details on opening times, parking options, and how to reach Expo using Dubai’s extensive public transport options.


>> Dubai Metro Route 2020: All you need to know about getting to the Expo site


Where to catch the fireworks

Dubai will light up at three locations with spectacular fireworks displays tomorrow, October 1, after the Expo 2020 officially opens.

The fireworks will illuminate the night sky at 8.30pm at Dubai Festival City, The Frame, and The Pointe, Palm Jumeirah. More details here.


Opening ceremony to be streamed live at 430 locations

Expo 2020 Dubai’s star-studded opening ceremony will be streamed live to more than 430 locations across the UAE.

Screens will be set up in locations ranging from airports and shopping malls to hotels and other landmarks, relaying the incredible music and cultural performances as they happen. You can find the full list of locations here.


We're live at Expo 2020 Dubai!

Are you ready for the World's Greatest Show?

The mega event of the year is all ready to kick off and Khaleej Times is on the ground with all you need to know.

Watch KT's own Michal Divon talk to resident Expo expert Anjana Sankar about everything from navigating the venue to PCR test requirements for entry and what to expect from the various innovative pavilions there.

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