Excellence Awards 2016
Swan Lake Photo by Mikki Kunttu

Swan Lake

The Royal Danish Theatre took on a new angle for Tchaikovsky’s classic Swan Lake, aided by the dramatic and cutting-edge style of lighting, scenic, and video, all designed by Mikki Kunttu. Directed by Nikolaj Hübbe, the production was held at Copenhagen Opera House and featured choreography by Silja Schandorff and costumes by Mia Stensgaard. Peter M. Rasmussen is the production manager for The Royal Danish Theatre.

Kunttu notes that he wanted his set design to be “visually modern and of my own signature, but still drawing its strengths from the romantic dynamics of the choreography, the music, and the story.” To make the set as large as possible, but still allow plenty of space for the dancers, Kunttu designed floating sets to dominate the space above and beside the dancers. Inspired by Art Deco, he designed ten pieces of huge, cut-out legs, or “shape legs,” standing 9m tall and hanging on individual Triple E Unitrack Systems that could be moved independently, using custom-built Wahlberg motors controlled via wireless DMX from an ETC Insight 3 console. The cut-out borders—“shape borders”—also hung independently and could move up and down, and left to right, to create a collapse. All moving set pieces were battery-powered, and The Royal Theatre crew did the rigging. The set construction was done by Engelbrecht Construction and the set painting by Colour Compagniet.

Photo by Costin Radu

Since the sets were very monochromatic, there was more headroom for saturation and hues in the lights and costumes. Eight sidelight towers were fitted with 48 Harman Martin Professional MAC Viper Profiles and 16 Philips Vari-Lite VL1000 AS fixtures. His backlight specials comprised 10 Harman Martin MAC III Profiles. The remaining rig was the opera house inventory, including Harman Martin MAC III Wash units, additional MAC III Profiles, Philips Vari-Lite VL3550s, ETC Revolutions, High End Systems Studio Color 575s, and LDDE SpectraConnecT5 LEDs. Fog was via MDG Atmosphere units. No conventional lighting was used. He worked in Vectorworks 2015.

MA Lighting grandMA consoles ran the show, and Kunttu preprogrammed for a month using MA 3D visualization software, with a Green Hippo Hippotizer for video. The opera house supports MA-Net, and Kunttu had two simultaneous operators on grandMA consoles, with backup on an MA Lighting grandMA light, as well as MA onPC command wing stations. The preprogramming sessions also enabled Kunttu to send recorded animations of set movements to the theatre in advance.

Photo by Costin Radu

Projection was done onto the set and onto a front-projection light gray sharkstooth scrim from Cronenberg and a rear-projection PVC film screen. “The scrim hung against a blackout drop, and the drop flew out, revealing the stage bleed-through in the beginning of the show,” says Kunttu. The front and back projections were run by a Green Hippo Hippotizer v4 media server running v3 software with a full backup server.

Kunttu worked with David Nordström and Viktor Rundlöf of Green Wall Designs AB on screen content. Kunttu created all the content from a single black-and-white 1,920x1,080 PNG file, “which was simply a cut out of the shape leg,” he says. “The animations and stills were then created using everything from Maxon Cinema 4D to Adobe After Effects to Photoshop. Materials and reflections were added as well as the animated movements. A big part of the creation was also using layers of content on the Hippo.”

“If I look at the Swan Lake stage and forget about the technical definition of what is video and what is light and what are sets, I just see layers of visuals,” says Kunttu. In doing so—and despite ten layers of moving sets—the multi-talented designer was able to create one uniform look for Swan Lake, rather than separate elements of light, sets, and video.

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