With 138 points, Summit Steel has once again broken its own record for the number of load points rigged in London’s Royal Albert Hall (RAH), this time for Cirque du Soleil’s breathtaking new show Varekai, making its UK debut at the venue.
It’s the seventh year that Summit has installed the rigging infrastructure for a Cirque production in the venue, and this one has been particularly challenging because of the sheer scale, complexity, and the amount of spreader trusses needed to ensure that the show rigging could be hung in exactly the right places.
Summit project manager Chris Walker led a team of 12 riggers who started work on Boxing Day following work completed by an overnight crew of five riggers in the run up to Christmas, who took care of the pre-rigging and proof testing of the anchor points.
The main crew worked in two split shifts in order to get everything finished and ready for the first rehearsal on December 31, after which Summit left one standby rigger to baby-sit through to opening night on the January 8.
The first elements of rigging to go in were approximately 1,476 feet of trussing, which was arranged into a series of spreaders, mother grids, and drapes trusses hung from the roof of the RAH. The 14 tons of Cirque’s show rigging was then suspended below.
Cirque’s “pseudocupola” structure was then installed. Mimicking the cupola of the Big Top in which they normally perform, the 8-feet wide by 30-feet long rectangular steel construction normally sits between the 4 tent masts, but this one is specially fabricated for the RAH and fully flown.
Below that is the catwalk, with sections of the “passerelle” which traverses the arena from upstage left to downstage right, connected on either side. Many of the aerialists make their mid-air entrances from the catwalk so it’s strategically a very important piece of stage set. The “passerelle” would normally run between 2 tent masts, but these could not be installed in the RAH because of sightline issues.
Instead, two custom built half-masts extending downwards 24 feet are suspended from the upstage corners of Summit’s mother grid, using adapters which Chris Walker specially commissioned from James Thomas Engineering. The mast sections are required because various rigging elements are attached to them including the safety nets for the Russian Swing act, and the floor-mounted performer-flying winch wires which then divert throughout the structure via a series of pulleys.
Chris Walker started work on the project a year ago and he liaised closely with the RAH, Cirque’s base in Montreal, other UK suppliers, and the tour itself. Key personnel included UK-based Transfer project manager Andy Peat; Montreal-based Rigging project manager Stéphane Mayrand, and the Varekai’s technical director Rob Naumann. At The Royal Albert Hall, key people were the RAH’s consulting structural engineer, Bob Stagg, Caroline Place, and Luke Manning from the Technical Show department and show manager Jacqui Kelly.