Yves Aucoin, Céline Dion’s production designer of 30 years, knew her Courage world tour needed to be a transition for the pop star when they sat down to brainstorm in January 2019. Her album of the same name debuted atop the Billboard 200, Dion’s first release to do so in 17 years, and her international trek — which began last September, and is currently on hold due to the global coronavirus pandemic — is her first since the close of her 16-year reign as Las Vegas’ residency queen. It’s also her first major tour following the 2016 death of René Angélil, her husband of 22 years and manager for 33.
Unlike Dion’s Vegas residencies — which combined grossed $681.3 million, according to Billboard Boxscore, and were held in a 4,100-seat theater — her Courage arena tour is for an audience five times that size. (Its first 19 shows grossed $33.2 million.) Aucoin jumped at the chance to incorporate big production elements, most notably a fleet of 104 drones that light up and fly around Dion during the climax of “My Heart Will Go On.”
“The touring show needs to be designed in a way that you can put it in a truck, load it in the morning and have a short night” breaking the stage down, says Aucoin. “It’s another way of designing things.”
He also hired video company Silent Partners, which has created tour visuals for Taylor Swift, Katy Perry and P!nk, to ensure that fans sitting alongside the stage are engaged as well — for Dion’s Vegas shows, the seats were only in front of her. The clips are as elegant as they are useful: Dion shows off her skills in a stunning pas de deux, poses in couture and floats in a surreal water ballet as the ghostly theme from Titanic fills the venue.
“For almost 10 years, she has been in my ear saying, ‘I want to do a video in the water!’ ” says Aucoin with a laugh, adding that most of the ideas executed in the show were Dion’s. “She has always been involved in the creativity of any of the shows we’ve done; now, she’s wearing more the hat of the boss.” It’s a role she took out of necessity after Angélil’s death, but Aucoin assures that Dion “has surrounded herself with people who can make sure that even when she has her back to the stage, we are there to deliver her vision. She’s a strong woman.”
Even with so much change, Aucoin says that one thing stays the same when planning and executing a Céline Dion performance: “It’s always a good chunk of money. It’s about the same allowance of budget from a Vegas show to a touring show, but it’s a big multimillion-dollar project — always.”