One has to feel sorry for the Russians, and the people of Moscow especially. Even Sophocles couldn't have plotted a more tragic scenario. The 850th anniversary of the founding of the city of Moscow was supposed to be a triumphant world scale event, on par with a G7 summit, something everyone would be aware of even if they watched it only fleetingly on TV. However, Yuri Luzhkov, instigator of the event and mayor of Moscow, has been vilified at length in the Russian press for the wanton financial excesses of such a trumped-up excuse for a party, and the ill fate of the staging itself was that it happened to coincide with the biggest unscheduled media event in recent history, the death of Princess Diana.
Nevertheless, the well-intended festival unfolded in Europe's easternmost capital with two major events (and a myriad of much smaller ones) over the weekend of September 6 in Moscow. In Red Square, a huge extravaganza featuring a cast of thousands played out against the backdrop of St. Basil's famous spires and the walls of the Kremlin. Arguably the more expensive production (with 21 semis and a fully loaded Antonov from the production houses of Britain), the spectacle played to an audience of just 6,000. A harking back to the old days of privilege, it would seem.
But to please the populace, a high-tech spectacular, as only Jean Michel Jarre could conceive, played simultaneously in front of the austere Central Moscow University building. Fundamentally, the program was much the same as the concert Jarre has taken around the arenas of Europe this past year. The addition of a couple of new songs increased the show's length by about 30 minutes, however, and the staging was decidedly bigger, higher, brighter, louder.
Edwin Shirley Stages (ESS) provided a special double-width version of its 130'-wide (39.6m) and 60'-deep (18.3m) Tower System roof. Despite its width it still supported 15 tons of LeRoy Bennett's Light & Sound Design lighting rig and 10 tons per side of a flown Clair Brothers S4 system for FOH engineer Renauld Letang. This was a major consideration for the producers as Shane McCarthy, ESS's crew boss, explains.
"The first thing that happened when we began laying out the roof towers was that an official from the University came and told us the foundations of the buildings were crumbling," says McCarthy. "He showed us photographs of decaying concrete below the steps leading to the main building, the exact position where we were setting up. We had several meetings where we proposed solutions that would spread the load substantially, and these were eventually agreed on. But they never let us down to inspect the area--apparently this part of the basement was not in the jurisdiction of the University. It was rather sinister; they wouldn't tell us whose jurisdiction it actually was."
Playing to an audience of some 50,000 and with an estimated half-million more loitering within earshot, the free concert used as much equipment out in the audience as there was onstage. Four delay towers (also ESS Tower Systems) held a further 16 tons of S4s, while the main lighting and sound mix position towered some 80' (24.3m) in the air and was topped with 12 xenon projectors from E\T\C Audiovisuel in France. A further 18 projectors were mounted on towers at each side, providing monumental images upon the squat utilitarian ugliness of the University facade. Bennett also used a huge system of Arenas and Xenotech Britelights for building illumination. The only real departure Bennett made from the touring show was the replacement of Vari*Lites(R) with High End Studio Color(R) automated luminaires, many of which he had arrayed across the back of the stage to provide columns of light and to raise the perspective.
For the concert, Bennett stripped off the gloves and ran the Celco board while Gary Westcott drove the Light & Sound Design Icon(R) luminaires and High End Systems Studio Colors from the Icon Console(TM). Onstage projection was also very much part of the show, using a video system from PSL, and running the new X*POSE visual sampler software produced by ArKaos. This high powered, Power Mac-based software enables the most elaborate and sophisticated image manipulation in real time, plus a host of simultaneously accessible graphical effects features. The highlight of the video show was a live link-up to the Mir space station.
Despite a sudden snap from summer to winter temperatures, apparently quite normal in Moscow this time of year, the day of the show was blessed with clear blue skies. This was due to the intervention of the Russian Airforce--mayor Luzhkov reportedly slipped them $420,000 to seed the clouds--and the Airforce also provided a spectacular opening to Jarre's concert by flying four Illushin fighters over the stage and releasing airburst shells high above the crowds. However mechanistic the musical outpourings of Jarre, the crowd was ecstatic. As LSD crew boss Steve Sinclair reports, thousands were still dancing drunk in the streets the morning after.