If the old adage is true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Cirque du Soleil should be beside themselves at the number of imitators that have cropped up in recent years. And if success is measured via pop culture, then Cirque du Soleil scores there as well, with parodies of the troupe in both South Park and The Simpsons. During its mocking on The Simpsons, the circus abruptly comes to an end when a storm hits Springfield, thus blowing away the tent — as well as a cadre of acrobats shaped like a kite. C'est la vie.

That scenario is at least one logistical nightmare that Cirque du Soleil's latest show, Delirium, will not have to worry about. Delirium has done away with the traditional circus tent in favor of a massive rig that can be easily transported from venue to venue, in this case, arenas across North America. Cirque du Soleil's first live arena event, Delirium was created and directed by Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon, who also serve as the scenic and multimedia designers. Michel Robidas designed costumes, lighting was by Alain Lortie, Yves Savoie handled sound design, Anne Seguin-Poirier designed the show's props and decorative elements, and Carmen Ruest has the distinctive title of director of creation.

Delirium is less concerned with whimsy this time around and is driven by a tribal beat that has a distinctive urban feel and look to it. “The show is based on a musical skeleton,” Lemieux says. “Cirque du Soleil shows are usually acrobatic based, but here acrobatics are simply one element because this is a true multimedia, multi-dimensional show. The acts are part of something larger. Victor and I worked six years on the interactions of the different media.” The result of that work has left audiences speechless, Lemieux adds. “They don't know what they just saw! They cannot put it into words!”

Lemieux explains that the goal of the show is to eliminate the borders between technology resulting in a perfect and seamless blend. Delirium is a “total experience rather than many separate experiences,” he says. “We saw a lot of multimedia shows that incorporate projections and theatre, but often it's only juxtapositions of media. It looked like video was added in at the last moment-‘let's decorate with video.’ It's not integrated. We worked from the beginning with all the media together. On the first day of rehearsals, we had the projections, screens, even some lighting, so by the time we get through the creation of the show, all the elements are integrated, one to the other. It's more of a multi-layer vision of integrating the media. We multi-layer — one on top of the other — instead of juxtaposing one beside the other.”

Also for the first time, Cirque du Soleil musicians and singers are center-stage, as their music is the driving force of the show, with lyrics in real languages — English, French, Portuguese, Spanish, and Wolof, a West African language spoken in Senegal. Surrounding the musicians and singers is a 130' two-sided stage that bisects the arena. This size of stage is more often seen in stadiums rather than concert arenas. The scenic centerpiece of the show is 540' of projections, featuring images that range from pre-recorded scenes to manipulated live feeds that create a further layer of interaction between the show and the audience.

To host the multitude of projections, Delirium is replete with four roll-up screens suspended from above, two tulle screens that stand at the stage extremities, along with and four wings. “On the screens, on each side of the set, we project pre-recorded and live images,” Lemieux explains. “Sometimes, we close the opera scrim on each side of the stage, which are 40' by 150', and it becomes a very large projection surface, as big as four IMAX screens together.”

Sending those images around the arena are 18 25kW, 50,000-lumen Christie projectors at key locations throughout the venues with one resting in the main character's air balloon that casts images around the arena. “Projection adds something much more rich because we wanted to project on theatrical scrim, and I was amazed to see the power we have. Twenty years ago, we had so little power with projectors, and now we have 50,000 lumens in each one.” There is also a lot of smoke used throughout the show, which Lemieux says is usually great for light but bad for projection. “Now we have enough power that the projections show up on the smoke,” he says. “We used to do this with lasers, but with video projection, it's amazing; it really brings the image right into the air.”

All The Stage Is A World

With such a big staging area, the Cirque du Soleil team had quite a time finding a rehearsal space big enough; they actually resorted to an abandoned car factory. The 130' wide, 20' deep stage is set up longitudinal, dividing the arena into two intimate spaces, thus immersing the entire audience in the show, feeling front and center regardless of where their seats are located. The sharply sloping seating and the narrow stage envelop the audience in the huge set.

Above the arena, two custom-built rail bridges support 130,000 pounds of equipment, including 22 Show Distribution SD-800S motors that control the “flying” characters, as well as lighting and accessories to be moved about during the show. The main character alone requires four motors for his actions in the air balloon (two running at 4' per sec. and the other two at variable speeds). Three generators carrying 2,700W are needed to run the show. During the rehearsal process, Lemieux says that an arena rigging specialist told him that the show was “too heavy,” and he did not mean emotionally. “Literally, the show had too much weight,” he says. “We had to really work to make it lighter and we found a new type of truss. It's quite a challenge because this truss has to be quite solid. In the end we had exactly the concept we wanted, just had to work harder.”

This unusual, dissected performance space also gave Lortie an extra set of challenges; he quickly realized that lighting Delirium would be entirely different from anything he had ever done before. “When the audience is just on one side it's much easier to create some ambiance and backlight,” he says. “But with this setup, a nice looking backlight on one side becomes a harsh FOH on the other side. Our setup is essentially a mirror image of the other side but we did try to give the same look for both sides of the audience and that's not always easy to achieve. Normally we worked from one specific side and were not always aware of what it would look like on the other side. But once I went to the other side of the show to see how it was shaping up, I was really happy with what I saw; we took care of all of the audience to make sure everyone was seeing the same show.”

Because of Delirium's technical needs, Lemieux and Pilon had to put on their inventor caps in order to get the effects that they wanted. “Everybody loved the ideas we had, but the gear was not available because it did not exist. We had to create things for this show,” Lemieux explains. “Victor and I read the [equipment] instruction manuals, and we do the opposite. When people ask us how we did something, we just tell them we do it with the same equipment they use, but in a different way.” One of the pieces of equipment especially designed for Delirium was a motor truss. “We have two rail motors and six programmed motors that can carry people and scenery. Some are preprogrammed, and some are manual. When you work with acrobats, you have to suddenly go into manual mode. For a piece of set, you can program it, and it's always the same. With acrobats, you have to wait till the acrobat finishes and touches ground before going to the next cue.”

Another custom-made piece of equipment is a lighting fixture that hosts an acrobat who is attached to fixture like “hooking onto a star,” Lemieux says. The fixture is a combination of a dozen automobile headlights, complete with a battery pack and controlled via wireless DMX. The battery pack, too, was something created especially for Delirium. The effect is awe-inspiring, according to Lemieux, because the acrobat appears to be riding a star through the heavens. Lortie had used wireless technology in the past but was unimpressed because there had been a great deal of delay. “I was really surprised at how efficient the wireless system has been,” he says. “I think the next generation of moving lights will have their own wireless DMX inside, and you'll just need to bring the power to the lamps.” He adds that there will always be cable to be run for a production, but if you can reduce that count by at least one, then the electricians will be happy.

The wireless technology used to control the show's lighting makes extensive use of Sweden-based Wireless Solutions W-DMX. The system delivers DMX data from point A to point B but does not provide power output for dimming. RC4's Wireless Dimming System from Toronto-based Theatre Wireless provides integral dimming, but the designers did not want more than one wireless protocol running in the same show. Their solution was to use RC4's DMX-4WL dimmers, which look much like standard RC4 dimmers, but replace the digital radio with a DMX input. A short DMX cable runs from a W-DMX receiver to a 4WL dimmer. Each dimmer uses rotary dip-switches to set DMX channels, dimmer curves, and digital persistence levels. While using two separate devices occupies a little more space and is a little more work to set up than an integrated RC4 receiver/dimmer, the results are stunning, and it does the job. Delirium uses 11 DMX-4WL-HO (four-channel, 1000W units) and 11 DMX-4WL-MINI (four-channel, 200W units).

Carry That Weight

Like Lemieux and Pilon, Lortie also had to consider weight when he was assembling the lighting rig. “We had to make choices on moving lights that considered the weight,” he says. “I used [16] Vari-Lite VL2500 spots because they are smaller and lighter. I have more of those in the overhead rig. I have [24] VL3500 spots, which are heavier, but they are ground supported with booms or on the floor. [Using lighter fixtures] was a technical parameter I had to respect.” There are also 30 VL3000 spots and 34 VL3000 washes in the rig along with four Martin Atomic 3000 strobes, eight Clay Paky Stage Scans, and seven Syncrolite SX3K-2s. LEDs also make an appearance along the edge of the stage, with 100 Chroma-Q Color Blocks and 196 Color Kinetics iColor® Cove MX Powercore units.

Lortie adds that he was involved so early on in the process that he really didn't have to cut out many fixtures. “A lot of times as a lighting designer, I have the chance to be more involved in the trussing and the rigging of the lighting truss. Often, you are able to put your own signature on the way the lights will be hung,” he explains. “We didn't have too much choice about where we could hang the lights, especially with all those big screens traveling on stage. I didn't have the opportunity to create my own setup. But inside the basic technical setup, I was able to put on positions for lighting.” Lortie and his team, which included assistant LD Valy Tremblay and lighting department assistant Alexandre Tougas, developed four 40'-high sidelight booms “and they are really efficient. I'm not missing anything. We have a lot of floor lights.”

Delirium is very much a moving light show; Lortie uses only 20 PAR fixtures because he wanted to make the tour a “no focus show. You have to have time to make sure conventionals are in the right position,” he explains. “[With moving lights], it's easier to track the show from the console on a daily basis rather than sending someone to the fixture to aim it to specific points. Weight-wise, moving lights are heavier, but you need fewer because they do more.” Lortie and his assistant, Tremblay, use an MA Lighting grandMA console for control because the “LEDs bring in even more channels and universes for a total of 16, and the grandMA was a great asset for us,” he adds.

Aside from the weight restrictions, Lortie also focused on giving the show the right look since it was not a typical theatrical, opera, rock, or even Cirque du Soleil show. “It was a big change from under the big top,” he says. “It was really important to respect all of the video. When using white scrim, if you turn on one light on stage, it casts a glow that can detract from the drama of the projections.” He also had to pay special attention to the performers' needs as well; they had to be seen by the audience, but he had to carefully gauge how much light to use so that the performers would not be blinded. “You have to be cognizant of giving the performer the safest light possible while working within the rock and roll lighting language,” he adds.

In other shows that Lortie has designed, the lighting often tended to be the focal visual aspect, but he knew that Delirium was an entirely different proposition altogether, considering how the various design elements are melded into a singular sensation. “More and more people in our industry are using so many visuals,” he says. “Today, it's not just a concert with basic lights. There's multimedia everywhere. Our setup is much different. I think now it's impossible to go without the relationship of video and automation, and sets and props.”

In the case of Delirium, Lortie considered his lighting as simply another tool — like audio, dance, music, or video — for the directing team of Lemieux and Pilon to use as they pleased. “[The lighting doesn't] need to override; we just need to be a complementary aspect to the overall visual. We don't need to overcome or over affect any cues. We just need to follow and be complementary. We're another visual tool.” Lortie adds that, “I have a punch line that I try to follow with every show I design: on time, on budget, with a bit of taste and a lot of pleasure! I try to respect those goals and make everybody happy hopefully.”

Just as the relationship between the technologies is important, so too is the relationship between the technical crew and the artists, whether performers or designers. Lemieux and Pilon made certain that the techs understood how important their roles were for the show's success. “The crew is shocked at first, but once they do the show more and more, they like it because they come to realize that they are not just at the end of the process,” Lemieux says. “Delirium is really a constant dance between technical cues and live cues. The technical cues have a meaning to them; they're not just there for an effect. I will say to a technician, ‘go slower, because when you do that, it has emotion.’ I've been a technician, and I know the kind of distance from performer or director to technical crew, so I'm really respectful of those people because they are totally a part of my show.” He added that the crew is fairly evenly divided between techs from the concert world and from the arena world, and he enjoyed seeing how the two worked together. “At first, it was like two gangs, but now they are blending together, and the arena people are more sensitive to the little details. It's great!”

Despite being in the middle of the tour, Lemieux says that he thinks the tour will grow even further, and he's changing cues every day. “Every day, our animators who did the video are putting clips on an FTP server, and every day, we're trying new things. The Internet is perfect for this type of show,” he says. “I'm still dreaming about a show I could direct from my home, but I would miss the human contact. Delirium is fun for me because the first show I ever did was in my room at five years old with flashlight and tape recorders. For me it's an evolution; my room just got bigger!

Delirium's limited North American tour began Montreal in January and will hopscotch across the continent with stops in Indianapolis, Columbus, Kansas City, Toronto, Houston, Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Detroit, Albany, and Buffalo before ending the tour in Dallas March 28.

Mark A. Newman is the former managing editor of Live Design (and its parents Lighting Dimensions and Entertainment Design).


Delirium Credits

Design Team Guide: Guy Laliberté

Artistic Guide: Gilles Ste-Croix

Creators and Directors: Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon

Set Designers and Multimedia Designers: Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon

Costume Designer: Michel Robidas

Lighting Designer: Alain Lortie

LD Assistant: Valy Tremblay

Lighting Dept. Assistant: Alexandre Tougas

Project Manager - Lighting: Luc Savoie

Props and Decorative Elements Designer: Anne-Séguin Poirier

Sound Designer: Yves Savoie

Director of Creation: Carmen Ruest

Programming Consultant: André Girard

WYSIWYG Drafting/Operators: Proluxon Inc., Montreal

Video Designer: Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon

Video Content Designer: Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon and Fly Studio, Montreal

Production Team

Production Manager: Lucie Juneau

Assistant to the Production Manager: Shelley Dupasquier

Technical Director - Show: Caroline T. Couture

Technical Director - Site: André Langevin

Programmer and Integrator, Video Projection & Multimedia, Project Managers: Jimmy Lakatos - Les productions …léphant et Castle Inc.
Mathieu St-Arnaud - Splaxsva Inc.

Project Managers: Robert Beauregard, Nicolas Jobin, Frédéric Labelle, Jean-Michel Caron

12V Lighting Integrator: Patrick Dockrill

Video System Team

Video Set-up Designer: Jimmy Lakatos, Mathieu St-Arnaud

Realtime Video Effects Designer: VYV Inc., Montreal

Video Integration and Programming: Mathieu St-Arnaud, Olivier Goulet

Video Consultant: Cyril Beme

Project Manager: Jimmy Lakatos

Solotech Tour Staff

Project Manager: Sébastien Marchand

Crew Chief: Brian Dawe

Crew Chief Assistant: Mathieu Lavallée

Board Operator: Claude Plante

Dimmer Tech: Jean-François Malette, Rémy Parent

Bench Tech: David Bergeron

Rigging Tech: Raynald Forgues, Neil “Mongo” Andrews

Video Operator and Live Mixing: Olivier Goulet

Video Chief and Cameraman: Louis Lefebvre

Electronic and CCU Video: Jean-Phillipe Tremblay

Technician and Cameraman: David Boisvert

Technician and Cameraman: Dominique Moreau

Operator and Realtime Video Effect: Pieric Ciguineau

Delirium Equipment

24 Vari-Lite VL3500 Spot
30 Vari-Lite VL3000 Spot
34 Vari-Lite VL3000 Wash
16 Vari-Lite VL2500 Spot
7 Syncrolite SX3K-2
8 Clay Paky Stage Scan
100 AC Lighting Chroma-Q Color Block
196 Color Kinetics iColor® Cove MX Powercore
2 Mole-Richardson Maxi-Spacelite
6 Altman 48" ZS-2 MR16 Zipstrip
36 ETC Source Four® PAR
4 Robert Juliat Ivanhoe Followspot
4 Altman 1000 Q Followspot
24 AC Lighting Chroma-Q Color Changer
4 Martin Atomic 3000 Strobe
5 Luminous Swings (Custom)
1 Emballa Shadow Light (Custom)
4 Mega 12V FlashLight
Lighting Control
2 ETC Sensor SR48 Touring Dimmer Rack
1 MA Lighting grandMA
1 MA Lighting grandMA Light
6 MA Lighting NSP
8 Wireless Solutions Wireless DMX Transmitter
14 Wireless Solutions Wireless DMX Receiver
8 Theatre Wireless DMX-4WL-HO 12V Dimmer
1 Cast Lighting WYSIWYG Perform Station
Rigging Hoists
26 CM 2-tons
64 CM 1-ton
52 CM 1/2-ton
4 Chain Master 1/4-ton
Rigging Control
22 Show Distribution SD-800S Motor controller with remote
2 Crestron Rack-2 Digital controller for SD-800S
1 Crestron touchscreen with custom design software
Video Projectors
12 Christie Roadie 25K Projector
6 Christie Roadster 16K Projector
2 Sharp Video 3K Projector
Video Control
12 Coolux Pandoras Box® Video Server
2 MA Lighting grandMA Light Console
3 VYV Light System (Realtime Video Effect)
3 Sony DXC-637 Camera 3 CCD
4 Sony DXC-950 Camera
7 Sony CCU Remote
4 Fujinon Robotic Head
1 Ross RVS-316 Video Switcher
2 Verint Nextiva S1100 Smart-Link Wireless Video System
1 AutoPatch 16×16 Matrix
1 Ross 16×32 HDSDI Matrix
1 Leitch 10 DA Frame
2 Evertz VIP Twelve Input Video Monitoring and Display
12 Doremi Labs XDVI-20
1 12-1 Routing Switcher
6 UltraVaio Downscaler HD to Composite
1 1×2 DA Composite
1 1 in × 8 out DA Composite
1 Vector Waveform
1 Black Generator
6 LCD Screen
6 3Com 1 Gigabit Switch
3 PC Laptop