Rock Divas In Baku

Going global was the theme for the production team working on a trio of solo concerts in late September/early October for rock divas Jennifer Lopez, Shakira, and Rihanna at Baku Crystal Hall (an indoor arena holding over 20,000 spectators, built for the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest) in Azerbaijan, as part of the FIFA Women’s World Cup soccer championships. Matt Hales, the project manager for Tait coordinated shipments from the US, UK, and Belgium, all scheduled to arrive in Baku on the same day, while Spike Brant, Justin Collie, and Nathan Wilson of Performance Entertainment Design Group (PEDG) completed an overall design scheme that would be somewhat modified for each concert.

“We were responsible for the main stage, with band risers, and custom Tait variable-speed personnel lifts and “toasters” or lifts that pop people onto the stage,” notes Hales. The stage was set up and painted in Belgium before being sent to Baku by truck. The largest scenic element is a 3D scenic fascia or false proscenium, 40’ high x 196’ wide, built with a steel triangular frame covered with a layer of powder-coated aluminum, plus a layer of sand-blasted polycarbonate for transparency and embedded with 450 low-res LEDs.

“The concept was for the proscenium to replicate the architecture of the building, with its geometric LED-lit façade that appears as points of light at night,” Hales explains, pointing out that the 3D fascia was a rigging challenge, with 29 specific rigging points across the front of the stage, up to 20’ apart. “The fascia is an impressive piece of scenery designed and manufactured in three weeks, as this was a fast-track project.”

Hales and the Tait team worked with Brandt and Wilson as the designs evolved. “They were great to work with,” he notes. “They sent images and we sent back drawings and engineering solutions. For the fascia, for example, it started out with about 14 different sizes of triangles. We were able to engineer it to have just two sizes without compromising the overall look or geometry of the design. It’s great working with designers who understand, and respond quickly.”

For each different concert, the stage configuration will be adapted to meet the needs of each star, with one basic rig lighting provided by Neg Earth in the UK, and a video system provided by LA-based VER, comprising a large 9 mm high-res center screen upstage, and 25 mm two lower-res side screens. Additional scenic elements included a 30’ high x 60’ wide Austrian curtain of gray muslin to close or reveal the stage, as well as eight scenic roll drops 40’ tall x 6’ wide, made of silver chiffon. “Many of the elements came from our rental inventory,” notes Hales. “They can easily be reconfigured for each concert. Even the main stage is in modular elements that are easy to move around.”

The load-in began on September 14, a week prior to the Jennifer Lopez concert on September 22, with two and a half days to get the stage installed, then the fascia and lighting rig went up, before three days of rehearsal. Hales gives props to production manager Dale 'Opie' Skjerseth for being an “amazing arbiter, able to rearrange schedules as things unfolded onsite. These concerts were large-scales one-offs half way around the world,” he notes. “There were stagehands from Hungary and Turkey as well as crew from all the various vendors. A truly international effort on a global scale.”

On the design side of things, the team from PEDG knew they needed a big look. “The Eurovision Song Contest was the only thing that had been at the venue,” says Brandt. “They had used fire as a theme so we wanted to go in a different direction, but needed to find something that fit into the time and budget allowed.” That led to the design echoing the architecture of the building: “It emanates wealth,” Brandt notes, adding that an additional element was a VIP deck built by Stageco, that has seating for 1200 at the back of the hall, with stairs up to a VIP lounge.

Each diva has her own LD, with Sean Burke designing for Jennifer Lopez and Nick Whitehouse for Rihanna, for example, with each reconfiguring the basic rig. With Wilson on site, the PEDG team also brought in Bob Peterson from Real World Lighting in Chicago for extra coordination in Baku, helping pull all the lighting elements together. “The project was like producing Burning Man with a roof over your head,” notes Brandt.

PEDG: Design Team
Spike Brandt
Justin Collie
Nathan Wilson
Bob Peterson (on-site coordination)

TAIT Crew List
Alex Serrano, Tait Integrator
Jason Spisak, Tait Integrator
Frederik Goemaere, Tait Integrator and LED tech
Glenn Sinnaeve, Tait Integrator
Jeroen Mahieu, Tait LED Tech
Matt Hales, Project Manager

Production managers
Dale 'Opie' Skjerseth
Chris Balogh

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