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Fri 17 Apr 2009 04:00 AM

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Under the big top

With the renowned Cirque du Soleil: Alegria stageshow touring Dubai last month, Sound & Stage secured an exclusive all-access pass to preview the production and the impressive temporary venue constructed to stage it.

Under the big top
Under the big top
The Midas Heritage 3000 desk located FOH.
Under the big top
The cupola supports an array of lighting fixtures.
Under the big top
Thomas Duchaine, head of lighting, Cirque du Soleil: Alegria.

With the renowned Cirque du Soleil: Alegria stageshow touring Dubai last month,
Sound & Stage

secured an exclusive all-access pass to preview the production and the impressive temporary venue constructed to stage it.

Lighting vendor of choice

Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC).

Choice of lights

Leikos, gobos and strobes favoured.

The production team also utilised a number of upward-facing par cans to create flame effects in conjunction with a rig of moving light fixtures.

Audio mixing console

Midas Heritage 3000

Manual/automated tech?

Manual. Despite automation capabilities, sound and lighting is still manually operated to enhance accuracy and creativity.

Number of staff

Approximately 160 permanent production staff, and approximately the same number hired locally at each stop on the tour.

Alegria's tenure

15 years.

Time spent on maintenance

One day per week scheduled, plus on-the-fly repairs and cleaning.

Venue setup time

Seven days on average. Marking takes place at new venues days before the arrival of the production.

Stereo or mono audio output?

All audio outputs are mono to ensure each audience member enjoys the same aural experience, no matter where in the grandstand they are located.

Number of lighting staff on the ground

Three staff dedicated to follow-spot duties supported by one lighting desk operator.

Number of audio staff on the ground

One dedicated to front of house duties while another keeps an eye on the assembled monitors.

Integral staging technologies

The stage cupola and grid-dome. Lighting is rigged up to both structures before being raised. They are integral to the production and support not only the pro audio and lighting tech, but also supplementary rigging and the performers themselves.

Sourcing structures

All rigging and structural materials are broken down to a manageable size and transported as part of the tour.

Overall show design

Few major changes have been made to the technical aspect of the show's design since it first debuted in 1996.

Precision counts

One missed coordinate during pre-phase stage construction can result in the carpentry team being forced to rebuild the stage's raised platform.

Local partnerships

UAE property developer Nakheel provided local labour support for the Alegria production, and is currently developing a permanent venue to host Cirque du Soleil productions on the Palm Jumeirah.

Surround sound

The surround sound system operates in three zones: back-left, back-right and back-centre.

Favoured technology

Meyer Sound LCS series. ETC lights.

Not broken? Why fix it?

Thomas Duchaine, head of lighting for Cirque du Soleil, talks tech with Sound and Stage.

The Cirque du Soleil venue always remains the same, no matter where you take it, so once you find the right sound and lighting combo you stick with it. In terms of design, the show hasn't changed much since 1996, which seems an age ago.

Running the lighting and audio systems manually is not really an issue with this show. It also makes things more enjoyable for the operators, because they're in control of what's going on.

They also have the ability to ensure better synchronisation with the music, because when you have a live band playing that music, you can detect the style and timing of the performers, which is something a machine won't notice.

Sometimes I wish we had access to the latest and greatest technology to produce this particular show, but even if we did, we would still need to operate many of the effects manually.

Given the ad lib nature of the show, at any moment one of the performers could do something unexpected and our engineers would need to trigger sound effects to suit the situation.

Manual control adds a human perspective to the show, which computers can't do.

If I were to have a show that was loaded with sound effects, then it wouldn't be possible to run everything manually. The surround system just needs that automation to support the whole soundtrack around it. Alegria is not as sound effects-laden as some other Cirque shows, so we're handling the manual control aspect quite easily.

Cirque du Soleil owns all the equipment we use in this production. And while the company is creating a new show every six months, the budgetary allocation for technology in Alegria is enough to simply to ensure the technology keeps running.

But it's efficient, and the quality of the result is as good as it was the first day it was used.

There's no need to change something that is still a money-maker. The sound system still sounds amazing, even though it's an old system now. It doesn't need to be a big line array to be effective.

This show is about creating an environment and pushing the artistic envelope.

We're trying to achieve the maximum with the kit we have, rather than use the gear that has maximum capabilities.

Our newer stage shows utilise the latest cutting-edge technology, mainly because these shows are far more technically demanding than previous Cirque events.

Creating a permanent presence on the Palm

Following the announcement in May, 2007 that Nakheel and Cirque du Soleil had entered into a 15-year partnership to jointly develop a permanent show, the two organisations set about developing plans for the construction of a purpose built venue for the production on the Palm Jumeirah.

The 1800-seat theatre, which will be located in the Palm Village precinct, will cover an area of 25,189sqm, including 13,783sqm for back of house, 2106sqm for the auditorium, 1937sqm of performance area and 4594sqm for front of house.

Cirque du Soleil's production vice president, Stéphane Mongeau, says the custom-designed theatre is still in the preliminary stages of development.

"Cirque is currently developing the unique custom-made theatre," he explains.

"Our head of design at Cirque, Marie-Flore Gignac, is working very closely with the set designer, George Tsypin, along with a team of architects, draft persons, and project managers at our international headquarters in Montreal. It will be a technologically challenging show as we are talking about water basins, tracks and trolleys, stage lifts, high speed winches."

The production will focus on two driving themes - the desert and the oasis - which Mongeau says will also inspire the unique design of the auditorium and lobby.

"The desert theme will continue from the stage, through the auditorium and into the lobby, providing guests with a truly immersive experience," he claims.

The shapes, lines and colours of the desert are considered to be strong elements behind the creation of show's overall abstract impression, Mongeau adds.

More than 100 technicians will be required to run the production, which will feature 70 on-stage performers.

Mongeau says show designers, Guy Caron and Michael Curry, are currently working to develop the venue's core stage structure.

Lighting designer Martin Labrecque and sound designer François Bergeron will design their own systems for the production with the specifics yet to be determined.

Mongeau says video projection will be an important component of the show, while rigging will prove "tremendously complex" within the vicinity as the stage and auditorium will be housed in the same space.

Despite the current economic downturn, the theatre is on track to open in January, 2011.The construction team consists of RSP Architects, Squire Mech PTE, ARUP Fire, Theatre Projects Consultants, D.G. Jones and Partner, Dar Al Handasah and Samsung.