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Fire-breathing dragons in 'DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular'

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At the helm: Gavin Sainsbury is the head of puppetry for “DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,” coming to San Jose. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • At the helm: Gavin Sainsbury is the head of puppetry for “DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,” coming to San Jose.

Forget reindeer. It looks as if dragons may fly higher during this holiday season.

That’s the thinking behind “DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon Live Spectacular,” which comes to fiery life at HP Pavilion in San Jose on Wednesday.

The huge show, based on the hit 2010 DreamWorks film of the same name, adds nuances — many in the dragons themselves.

“We are talking about live, animatronic robots that are manipulated by three or four people to bring the creatures to life,” says Gavin Sainsbury, the production’s head of puppetry. “The challenges of coordinating that, and marry the one creature together, is tremendous.

“Between these large, million-dollar creatures stomping around on an arena floor and 20 actors onstage, it’s all very highly choreographed for it to work properly,” he adds.

Sainsbury first delved into puppeteering when he was 11, and he began working professionally at the craft by the age of 15. He explored different styles of puppetry, but it wasn’t until the last decade that he took the work further, venturing into animatronics in TV, film and broader stage projects.

Based on the book by Cressida Cowell, the action in this live “Dragon”  revolves around a Viking teenager, Hiccup, who doesn’t quite fit in with his tribe of courageous dragon slayers. Imagine his surprise when he  encounters a dragon that somehow forces him, and his clan, to begin looking at the world from a new point of view.

More than a dozen dragons appear in the arena show at various points, some boasting wingspans of up to 46 feet.

Toss in a gaggle of Viking warriors, a bevy of circus artists and acrobats, and it’s easy to see why the extravaganza has been hailed for  crafty storytelling and technical wizardry.

“I hear it on a daily basis from kids, and even my own kids, that to be able to walk into an arena and have those characters come to life in front of you — dragons, moving, roaring, full out — I think that’s the thing that really keeps people very intrigued,” Sainsbury says.