Aqueous Maximus: House Of Dancing Water, Part 1: The Lighting

Having made a big splash in Las Vegas with Cirque du Soleil's O and Le Rêve at The Wynn, Franco Dragone has directed another mega-scale show with H2O: House of Dancing Water at City of Dreams in Macau, China, working with members of the “O-team,” set designer Michel Crete, lighting designer Luc Lafortune, and sound designer François Bergeron. Patrick Neys provided projection design for this $250 million production that premiered in September.

House of Dancing Water lives in a purpose-built 360° theatre-in-the-round, designed by Pei Partnership Architects, with a swimming pool that holds 3.7 million gallons of water (equivalent to five Olympic-sized pools). The audience wraps 270° degrees, while the other 90° comprises an entrance for performers and scenic elements, including a large projection screen.

“The design process was complicated due to the size and configuration of the venue,” confirms Lafortune, who faced a 25m (82') trim height, intended to fly scenic elements on catwalks above the audience and allow for breathtaking high dives. “The 25m mark is a tipping point in the world of theatrical production,” he says. “If we go bigger in terms of the stage as we know it, we go into stadium operas, and you come to a point where you are doing one or the other. When the trim gets too high, it changes the tools you can use, so this is as big as we can get.”

Lafortune adds that he is missing the classic 45° angle. “We are at 20° flat, or 65-70° steep, so I had to work around that,” he says. “Most of the light comes from way up above, mainly due to the architecture but also because of the noise, given the close proximity of some fixtures to the audience. As a result, in the lower position, I used mostly incandescents, fluorescents, ellipsoidals, strobes, neon, and two-lights, primarily to define the theatre, add effects, and add character to any particular scene.” Philips Vari-Lite VL3500s and Clay Paky automated fixtures are in the upper position for their long throw and zoom. At the 50m (164') mark on the high grid, Lafortune added a Clay Paky Alpha 700 automated beam projector, noting that, despite the unusual trim, “It really kicks,” he says.

The 270° of seating is on concrete bleachers above water level, allowing scenic pieces to be stored below and artists to come in and out from any direction under the water. “There is more water than meets the eye,” says Lafortune. “A dry corridor circumvents the entire pool, and the theatre is architecturally very complicated.”

In order to light the water, climate-controlled lighting bubbles, equipped with Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200 units, line the edge of the bleachers. “They provide color mixing and strobes, with some pan and tilt in the bubbles, which are placed one meter below the surface of the pool,” explains Lafortune. Upper lighting bubbles, with Clay Paky HPE 1200 units, are on the “beach,” or dry crossover area between the audience and the pool.

“It was essential to light the water,” says Lafortune. “The intention was to take this one element, treat it as a character, and give it different personalities, at one moment a raging sea, with lighting and atmospheric effects, at another, a piece of glass, calm water with images reflected from the projection screen above.” In addition, 2,000 Howard Eaton Lighting Ltd flicker candles twinkle at different speeds (using just one speed seems too mechanical, says the LD) all the way around the theatre. “As they change from warm candlelight to green fluorescent, you go from one world to another,” Lafortune notes. (See below for the full gear list.)

For daredevil motorcycle jumpers, Lafortune built a number of cues around the constant of the motorcycle ramps. “They are always lit, no matter what cue you are in, but you can modify the lighting as the riders go up or down,” he says. “They need to see the floor when they land and know where the back wall is, so I put vertical neon fixtures on the back wall, dressed up in saturated colors for an urban feel, and added a row of PARs to light the floor where they would be landing.” A GAM pattern called Opera Hose (as in fishnet stockings) creates the look of a metal fence in a shallow light corridor at a 20°-45°. “Most of the light is behind the riders, so it stays out of their eyes,” Lafortune says.

The lighting designer notes he’s using a lot more red than he has in the past, realizing that cultural references are totally different in China, and he had to be careful when choosing colors. “We use a lot of blue in the West, but it has a different meaning in China, so I started using a lot of red, which looked good in the theatre and with the water,” he notes. “I used to think red was too loaded, in terms of meaning, and shied away from it, but in this case, it looks great with the staging and projections. Chinese red is a lucky color, used a lot in gifts and celebrations. A dark, somber show would not have worked there, and this is a much happier, ‘wow’ kind of show.”

Six Robert Juliat Victor 1159B followspots are at a height of 16m (52.5'). “The stage is 22m [72'] across, and the diameter of the house is 50m [164'], so the trim, even at 16m [52.5'], is still steep,” explains Lafortune. “I had to not fall into the trap of a directional manner with the 270° audience and 2,000 people. Instead the followspots are spread around the 270°, so there are no front or back spots.” Lafortune found the Victors bright enough to work well at that distance with operators in a truss and chair hanging above the audience. “I am partial to their fixtures, and these worked out quite nicely. We work on the distances, from 12m-36m [39.3'-118'], and with iris and zoom, so the operators are tweaking throughout the show. We hired—some locally, some came in from other shows—a very international lighting crew.”

Hubert Tardiff, who programmed and Zumanity with Lafortune, programmed this production on an MA Lighting grandMA 2. White Light in London provided the lighting, while Simon Fraser of Ptarmagan consulted on the lighting system. Steve Colley is the technical director of the venue.

House of Dancing Water
Selected Lighting Gear

MA Lighting grandMA 2 console

Automated Lighting
48 Clay Paky Alpha Spot HPE 1200
4 Clay Paky Alpha Wash Halo 1200
56 Clay Paky Alpha Wash 1200
8 Clay Paky Profile 1200
5 Vari-Lite VL3500s

Followspots and Arc Sources
6 Robert Juliat Victor 1159B Followspot
18 Robert Juliat D'Artagnan HMI (9–26°, 18-38°, and 30-50°)
2 Strand 4kw HMI Daylight Fresnel

320 ETC Source Four Ellipsoidal (5°, 10°, 14°, 19°, 26°, 36°, 50°, 70°, 90°)
44 ETC Source Four Zoom 15-30°
12 ETC CE Source Four Junior 36° and 50°
50 ETC Source Four Par MCM
204 ETC Source Four Par EA, +48
24 ETC Source Four Parnel
25 ETC Source Four Drop-in iris
74 Kupo Par64 Black
12 Kupo Par36 8-lite
48 Kupo Par36 2-lite
68 Hubbell Outdoor Vaporlites
4 Pauluhn Rotating Beacon
48 Encapsulite SLT8 Sticklilghts
24 Encapsulite 230v Twin Lamp Control Box
10 City Theatrical Color Extender, model #2473

Pool Lighting
348 Floor Mounted Acelab LED
6 Hydrel WD4415, 3-cell 12 volt MR 16

8 Martin Professional Atomic 3000 Strobes
1 Hungaoflash 15kw Strobe
24 GAM Twin Spin Gobo Rotator
12 Dual Channel PSU
6 City Theatrical EFX Plus 2
32 Type 5225 Water Disk
16 Type 5255 Ocean Art Glass
2280 HellUK Flicker Candles
56 HellUK DMX Power Supply

Scrollers & Dowsers
84 Wybron Coloram IT 7.5
16 Wybron Coloram IT 10
190 Wybron 7” Forerunner IT
12 Wybron 5kW Eclipse I IT Dowser
12 Wybron Scroller/Dowser PS-600
2 Wybron Scroller/Dowser PS-300
2 Strand 4kW Mounting Plate

Stay tuned for parts two and three on the projections and audio system for the production.

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