A massive undertaking creates a one-of-a-kind show for Chantal Chamandy's Beladi: A Night At The Pyramids
Chantal Chamandy was born in Alexandria, Egypt, raised in Montreal, and is of Greek and Lebanese descent. Given the multicultural background of the singer/songwriter, it was, perhaps, fitting that such an international figure was the first permitted by the Egyptian government to hold a filmed concert at The Pyramids of Giza, the sole survivor of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The one off show, Beladi, A Night At The Pyramids With the Cairo Symphony Orchestra, took place on September 7 and was filmed for DVD and television, to be broadcast on PBS in March 2008. It has also been licensed for broadcasting distribution around the world by Europe Images International/M5.
With the singer performing 18 songs in five languages to a crowd of more than 5,000 — accompanied by dancers from Montreal, belly dancers, and the principal dancer of the Cairo Opera House Ballet Company, Ahmed Nabil — the show required a dozen cameras (supervised by French director Gérard Pullicino) and a huge lighting rig to cover the immense expanse of the The Giza Plateau, the site encompassing The Pyramids and The Sphinx.
Chamandy herself was the artistic director for the event, and Matthieu Larivée designed lighting, with Guy St-Amour designing sets for the massive undertaking. “When they called me to say that they wanted to do a concert of Chantal co-starring The Pyramids, I thought that a great challenge,” says Larivée. “It's easy to just do a full blast of lights, but I wanted to highlight the edges of The Pyramids and do something different.”
St-Amour adds that his goal was not to recreate or concentrate too heavily on the history of the site, but to use the shapes and lines in a more contemporary way. “There is Egypt — this country of mystery and big geometrical realizations and architecture,” says St-Amour. “I said to myself that I could not compare anything in the world to this site or even approach what was done 5,000 years before. Thus, I kept the geometrical history, and I made a full set renderings to propose to Chantal — but really a lot of different ones — and we finally found something that fit well on the site — subtle but of good taste.” Éric Tendi worked with St-Amour on renderings in advance, and FranÇis Farley assisted on site.
St-Amour adds that his inspiration came from the site itself as well as from the singer. “In the past, I was fascinated by Egypt and its history,” he says. “Then, to create a concept for a scene at a site full of history, was to me more than an honor. What inspired me at first was Chantal's and [her husband] Greg's determination — their desire to succeed — and the originality of the kind of show that Chantal wanted to offer to the public — a show and not only that, but also a song recital,” says St-Amour.
Larivée, who worked on the project for a year, was also responsible for working with the director on the correct stage placement for the show, not an easy task since the land around the monuments is not at all level. “After we first scouted the site, we asked for the land plot, but nobody had it,” says Larivée. “So we got it from Google Earth. We used SketchUp and downloaded to Wysiwyg, but there were actually roads missing. You decide the stage needs to be here, for example, but all of a sudden, there's a road there.”
The placement of the stage ended up situated so that the camera shots for the HD DVD shoot would pick up one Pyramid and The Sphinx. “I saw we needed too much lighting and power to light all The Pyramids for each shot, so we used Kephren, the most interesting pyramid, as the main background and the others for side shots,” says Larivée. This also marked the first time The Sphinx has been lit for such purposes. “We had to work around the fencing and barriers — which are there for the tourists — surrounding The Sphinx, but they also had scaffolding set up for repairing the monument,” Larivée adds.
Larivée and his team, including assistant LD/programmer Valy Tremblay — whose company Proluxon also provided the in-house Wysiwyg services for preprogramming — and programmer Hubert Gagnon, were all onsite to program the show. While getting the right camera shots was not problematic once they had the stage where they wanted it, one major issue was the lack of a roofing or tower structure over or around the stage and no way to have a backdrop to cover the monuments — which would have defeated the purpose anyway — so all the gear had to be placed on the sides of the stage or on the floor. In addition, the use of no truss and no unusual staging meant using loads of scaffolding instead, a process that added to the timeline. “They even moved a road and built a wall through our site just a few weeks before our setup, and of course, without letting us know,” says Tremblay. “Final positioning and construction had to be revised drastically on location. But as we were expecting some messy situations, we were very well prepared and kept adjusting our rig and schedule accordingly to the real onsite situation.”
Communicating during load-in also proved problematic, as the team learned upon arrival that using any sort of radio communication was not permitted. In addition, a daily light-and-sound show that is part of the site's normal tourist activities until midnight was not halted for the set up of Chamandy's show. The crew, therefore, installed gear at the various locations all day using a pick-up truck to get to each part of the site and then worked through the night on programming.
Transporting and cabling all the fixtures on this immense historical site was another job unto itself. “We would take a road out to the further pyramid, but the pick-up would sink into the sand,” says Larivée. “So there were times when we were pushing the truck. We tried with a donkey; we tried everything. After 10 days, we finally got a bigger pick-up with larger tires.”
Zap Technology BigLite 4.5 units were used at the corners of The Pyramids to blast light along the edges of the structures. “The brightness of the BigLites helped us a lot in lighting up the Pyramid and the Sphinx, reaching a height of 300m,” says Gagnon. Griven Kolorado MK3 architectural 2.4kW HMI wash units were also used on Pyramids Kephren and Keops and on the wall at the bottom of The Sphinx. “The MK3 also surprised me with their power on the surface of Kephren,” adds Gagnon.
The control plan included using three programmers/operators, each assigned to his own part of the rig: Gagnon, the main programmer, managed all the stage musical looks and the main cue list of the show; Larivée and Tremblay managed elements around the perimeter, with Larivée concentrating on controlling intensity and some effects, and Tremblay focusing on The Pyramids and The Sphinx. “Having three programmers with free access to the whole rig/show file at the same time is still a new group task even for senior operators,” says Tremblay. “A group synergy is an indispensable add-on to get the most of such a powerful system. From that synergy, a solid team procedure can emerge.”
Preprogramming for many of the songs took place in Proluxon's studio and the rehearsal studio in Montreal. “There was no other way to get the most out of our rig in that short time line,” says Tremblay. “From approval to the concert — this was one month — nearly 600 fixtures spread on a square mile of ‘sacred land.’”
Because of some delays with scaffolding and a few staging issues, the lighting load in ran late, leaving the programmers only two nights of full programming. “We had to do a lot in advance but also on Wysiwyg in a hotel room during the load in,” says Gagnon. “Due to the delay in the installation, we didn't get a rehearsal, so the show for the three of us was the first time we saw the final result. We were a bit nervous!”
The system consisted of MA Lighting MAnet with four grandMAs (one for each operator and one backup) and eight NSPs. All DMX for The Pyramids and The Sphinx was transmitted wirelessly via a Wireless Solution system that Gagnon says pleasantly surprised him, as it transmitted up to 1,200m. “We could jump in our own ‘world’ at any time in the process, while Hubert was crunching almost 1,000 cues via Wysiwyg,” says Tremblay. “Using this very strong MA network feature — multi-user plus word filters — we could easily work on the whole rig or any parts, according to our availability.” Tremblay also managed all DMX data/patch, the MA network, and the wireless DMX requests.
The lighting department also kept a spare grandMA at the hotel — a sort of portable Wysiwyg studio — and to take it to the more remote locations at the site for testing and basic positioning. “These days, I couldn't imagine managing this size gig any other way,” says Tremblay. “What a nice night it is to be traveling with a grandMA in an old pick-up truck, firing up our rig as we traveled in the desert.”
For the stage performance itself, Larivée used a mix of Vari-Lite and Martin fixtures, LED units from Color Kinetics and PixelRange, Robert Juliat followspots, conventionals from Strand and James Thomas Engineering, and atmospheric effects from MDG. An Airstar balloon played the role of the moon, which the performer specifically requested.
Undertaking such a monumental — literally — project was challenging, yet rewarding, from all reports. “Anyone who worked in these conditions will agree with me: everything was hard and painful,” says Tremblay. “We knew that, and we also knew we couldn't afford to be on our own and would use many local recourses. When it's hard, you can make it harder!”
And the designer himself was extremely pleased with the results of the team's hard work and the clarity of the show. “We were shooting HD, so we had a good field of depth. When you see the result, it looks almost like scenery,” says Larivée.
Talk about aging gracefully — 5,000-year-old scenery doesn't look so bad. Beladi is currently being developed into a live touring show. The HD DVD will be released in Blu-Ray and 5.1 enhanced surround sound.
Original creative concept:
Director: Gérard Pullicino
Lighting designer, programmer, operator:
Luz Lighting Design
Guy St-Amour, Productions
Director of photography:
Assistant LD, programmer, operator:
Valy Tremblay, Proluxon
Lighting co-director/production head electrician: Denis Ayotte
Project supervisor: Axel Lemaitre
Project director: Denis Adrien
Lighting vendor: Procon, Belgium
Lighting and audio vendor: Solotech, Canada
Wysiwyg services provider: Proluxon Inc.
Production: Nine Muse Entertainment
LIGHTING AND EFFECTS
63 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
8 Vari-Lite VL3000 Wash
12 Vari-Lite VL3500 Spot
19 Vari-Lite VL500
72 Martin Professional MAC 2000 Wash
54 Zap Technology BigLite 4.5kWk
100 Color Kinetics Color Blast
100 Griven Kolorado MK3 2400
2 PixelRange PixelLine 1044
15 Strand Lighting Nocturne 1,000W
24 James Thomas Engineering 2-Light PAR 36
4 Robert Juliat Cyrano Followspot
4 Robert Juliat Ivanhoe Followspot
8 MDG 5000 Fog Generators
4 MDG Atmosphere Hazers
1 Airstar Balloon
1 Zap Technology Big Mirror
MA Lighting MAnet
4 MA Lighting grandMA (one for backup)
8 MA Lighting NSP
All DMX transmitted wirelessly via a Wireless Solution system