dbn Lighting, working for Somme 100 and Manchester City Council, provided lighting, LED screen and rigging equipment, an enormous electric-art sun piece and crew for a major cultural concert as the finale of the ‘Somme 100 Manchester’, a massive public art and performance event in Heaton Park, Manchester marking the UK based commemoration of 100 years since the start of the First World War’s deadly Battle of the Somme.
dbn’s Pete Robinson led their team and worked closely with lighting designer Chris Davey to realise his specification and design for lighting a main orchestra / choir stage plus a smaller dance performance stage that was built just in front.
The concert section of the event included Manchester’s acclaimed Hallé Orchestra playing several well-known pieces of music related to the First World War and a major physical dance piece which was staged on the forestage. The concert also featured a range of letters, poems and diary entries depicting the lives of those affected by the Somme and soldiers songs of the time performed by a national children’s choir.
All this live stage action which balanced hope and poignancy with emotive reminders of just how all-encompassing the spectre of war was in this dark period of history, was integrated with archival news and film footage of the time, together with graphics relaying statistics related to the Battle. All of this was lit thoughtfully and appropriately in a masterpiece of precision and drama.
The main stage – built by Acorn – measured approximately 27 metres wide and 10 metres deep with 10 metres of headroom. With the 65-piece Hallé and 100-strong choir in place, every last centimetre of it was meaningfully involved!
A 16 metre wide by 4 metre high 9mm LED screen was installed mid-stage in front of the orchestra, rigged on Kinesys motors by dbn, which dropped in and out during the show, showing video content, statistics and other graphics and info.
A ‘path of remembrance’ was built with thousands of tiles snaking through Heaton Park as one of many creative art interventions associated with the event, and the end of this passed by the main stage connecting it to the additional 20 metre wide x 4 metre deep dance stage that was built just in front.
The dance troupe performed their piece on this forestage which included rain falling from the stage roof and mud that was piped up from below the stage, both systems installed by Water Sculptures. The piece wound to a jaw-dropping finish with a lone woman in white raised up on a scissor lift at the back of the stage.
To facilitate lighting both stages, three trusses were flown in the roof of the main stage, loaded with 8 bars-of-6 Source Four PARs on the downstage truss which were used to cross light the choir.
Forty-eight Spectral Zoom LED PARs were utilized for orchestra washes, and 11 Clay Paky a.leda K10s with B-EYE lenses provided the onstage specials.
Seven Mythos, on the front truss, were used primarily to back light the dance piece on the forestage, and these were also used to highlight action on the B-Stage, a completely different area near the FOH position, comprising a 2 metre square platform that rose on a scissor-lift to place a dancer in the middle of the audience.
The Last Post at the end of the piece was also played by a solitary bugler on top of this platform.
Also on the forestage were another 10 bars-of-six Source four PARS on truss towers downstage left and right to sweep low-level cross light across the space.
30 x SGM P5 LED floods were rigged in the gap between the stages to backlight performers through the rain curtains which looked highly effective.
On the B-stage, 12 x Clay Paky GlowUp battery powered LED uplighters proved a neat and tidy wireless solution.
All these stage lights were controlled with one of dbn’s Jands Vista T2s programmed and operated by Nick Buckley, and they also supplied two Robert Juliat Victor follow spots.
While there was the relative luxury of two days rehearsals, the (artificial) rain, mud, moving screen, video and presenter content were all challenges that had to receive lighting treatment … before even getting to the orchestra and choir!
There was also another piece de resistance element requiring plenty of lateral thinking from the lighting team!
Towards the end of the event, around sundown, a massive 5 metre diameter sun made out of Molefeys was raised 20 metres in the air on a crane, stage right / house left and level with the FOH position.
dbn’s penchant for ingenuity came to the fore in its construction. The frame was built out of a 5 metre diameter LiteBeam trussing circle with MiniBeam supports and 72 circuits of Molefeys involving a combination of 8, 4 and 2-lite units to create the spherical shape.
It was a show-stopping moment that left the audience completely transfixed in the action. It also allowed there to be a blackout at the end of the piece … even though it wasn’t quite dark yet.
“It was a fantastic event in which to be involved from so many perspectives” commented Pete, “There was a lot of technical brain-teasing which we like, and the end results looked completely stunning and had a huge emotional impact”.
The evening show was part of the National Commemoration of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme which has held in Manchester. Project Director Sara Robinson worked with Artistic Director Alan Lane and Designer David Farley on the concept and design of the show with Pete and the dbn crew of 8 including the Kinesys operator working on site directly for Show Producer Sarah Rowland.
The 19,240 capacity of the event referred to the British soldiers who fell during the first day of the Somme conflict including 320 Mancunians, who were represented by 320 dancers in the audience. Heaton Park served as a training camp for a number of Manchester Regiment Battalions during the War.
The First World War’s most infamous Battle of the Somme started on 1st July 1916, and by its conclusion on November 18th had killed and wounded over a million people, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
Photos by Mark Waugh