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The beauty of rigging

The beauty of rigging
An in-the-round boxing setup at The Agenda

The beauty of rigging

Relative newcomer MFA Technical Services is taking the world of rigging by storm in Dubai, discovers Simon Luckhurst

Pro AVL MEA tends to focus on those pieces of equipment that quite literally steal the attention of the audience at a concert or event; however, there’s plenty of other integral gear at play. Of course, it is crucial for a production to have the latest AV and lighting equipment, but all off this still needs to be supported in a safe and accessible manner, or else the show simply could not go on.

L–R: MFA CEO Gleb Kharchenko and general manager Vladislav Boitsov
L–R: MFA CEO Gleb Kharchenko and general manager Vladislav Boitsov

Structures and rigging are somewhat of a science all of their own, and relative newcomer to the UAE, MFA Technical Services, is hoping to drive the industry in the region even further forwards by taking a different approach to the market. Since the company’s inception in 2021, the team has steadily invested in both facilities and staff, adding key skills and new regional territories to its profile, seeing the company securing some impressive projects over the last 24 months.

Led by founder and CEO Gleb Kharchenko and general manager Vladislav Boitsov, MFA was established as an independent entity in 2019, just before Covid hit. “We started life originally as just a staging company – we bought a brand-new stage deck and some material from Prolyte, such as roofs, ground supports and things like that. It arrived right as Covid hit,” recalls Boitsov. “I mean, there were both good and bad things that came from that period, but we were lucky to survive.”

Perhaps working in the pair’s favour at the time, the plan in those early days was always to take things step-by-step. “We were never thinking to go big right away, and during the pandemic that worked in our favour,” furthers Kharchenko. “We have a small warehouse, which we’ve stocked with material to the roof, but didn’t have massive overheads.”

As the pandemic eased, one of the first events back on the calendar in 2021 was the Dubai Air Show, for which MFA was tasked with devising a structure for the main 55m x 35m pavilion housing a jet aircraft. “The Dubai Air Show project really gave us a big kick to start scaling up operations and looking bigger,” Boitsov continues. “Not only was the whole project quite interesting and one where we made a big statement to the market, it was the first time we started to verge more into full technical production. It was the biggest pavilion at the whole show and required us to make a significant investment to support the project. As a result, it really jumped us up to the next level.”

The Dubai Air Show in 2021
The Dubai Air Show in 2021

“What we designed was a combination of Prolyte structure with additional scaffolding but, because of the size, the solution was really out of the box,” explains the CEO. “It was a completely flat roof structure, 10m high, which still had to be strong enough to support all the other ancillary AVL equipment. We were in discussion with engineers from Dubai's civil aviation authority for more than one month to confirm the static. When the client first saw it, he didn’t believe it was possible and he was also a civil engineer. When you build a standard roof with truss, you get a certain angle for the roof apex to provide maximum strength. The further you push that angle, the more strength you lose. We made the roof structure almost flat, yet it was still able to carry the required amount to load – it was quite an achievement. They were hosting a show inside, so above the jet you had lights, screens and speakers hung all around, which all had to be factored in.”

It was around this point that the pair stopped considering MFA as being simply a staging specialist, expanding its service offering to something more akin to a technical production specialist. Bigger and more involved projects quickly followed as a result. “The next major project was Sleeping Beauty in the Coco-Cola Arena, which took place concurrently with an ice hockey match in the same venue,” says Boitsov. “We were involved in the whole production from the outset, with Gleb serving as the show’s technical director. It was very unique as the event was paired with the ice hockey match the next day. This meant two entirely different production teams, with different rigging points that all had to be combined into a single structure. The hockey league also has very strict requirements.”

Snow White at the Coca Cola Arena
Snow White at the Coca Cola Arena

Of course, as activities have scaled up, so has the size of clients that MFA is increasingly working with. “While this is true,” notes Boitsov, “it doesn't matter how big the client is or how much money they are offering, the main idea behind MFA – and this is what I tell our shareholders as the general manager – is that service comes first. You can be brilliant as a technician, but at the end of the day if you are not servicing your client, he’ll never come back. This is what I’ve learnt being in this market for more than 20 years.”

Clearly the veteran GM is doing something right. Clients keep returning on mass, leading to the need to scale up MFA’s small team quite dramatically in 2023. “We practically doubled our crew last year,” Boitsov confirms. “We had quite a busy season in Saudi Arabia, both in terms of dry hiring our material and in terms of crew. We’ve also been working quite closely with the French agency Novelty, which has been heavily involved in luxury brand events. These are actually some of my favourite kinds of projects, as everything has to be so precise; sometimes you are working down to the millimetre.” More recently, the team has found itself becoming a regular contributor of staging and rigging for events taking place at The Agenda, an events industry hub of sorts inhabiting the old Dubai Palladium building.

So, what’s next for the now not-so-young company? “To be honest, we don’t dwell on the future too much, and we’re happy with how everything is going right now,” adds Boitsov. We’re in showbusiness, so you never quite know what is around the corner. Even though we’ve scaled up quite a lot since starting, we don't want to go huge with our operations. Medium-sized companies can be more flexible and, as you get bigger, you also tend to get more expensive. I think staying somewhere in the middle is ideal, for the very simple reason that this is where you can service your clients most effective. Saying that, we are planning to open a branch in Saudi Arabia, probably through cooperation with partners.”

Inside the Museum of the Future
Inside the Museum of the Future

So, what’s next for the now not-so-young company? “To be honest, we don’t dwell on the future too much, and we’re happy with how everything is going right now,” adds Boitsov. We’re in showbusiness, so you never quite know what is around the corner. Even though we’ve scaled up quite a lot since starting, we don't want to go huge with our operations. Medium-sized companies can be more flexible and, as you get bigger, you also tend to get more expensive. I think staying somewhere in the middle is ideal, for the very simple reason that this is where you can service your clients most effective. Saying that, we are planning to open a branch in Saudi Arabia, probably through cooperation with partners.”

“People typically think that rigging is quite boring, and if you’re only making basic structures then I can understand why,” concludes Kharchenko. “But the structure sits at the core of everything. If the skeleton is broken, the body will fall. For us, there’s real beauty in that.”



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Change of scene

30 Jan 2024

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