Kylie Minogue’s Aphrodite – Les Folies world tour’s grandest surprise—and the most jaw-dropping—is the extensive use of water. Hidden within the depths of the stage are 11,000 gallons of water, unleashed into various areas, including the two main stage pools, mostly 8" deep (for fountain integration) with 36" deep sections for aerialist submersions. The B-stage is itself a pool with shallow and deep sections, at the center of which is the three-tier scissor lift. The lift consists of two rings and a center platform, all hydraulically actuated. Both the outermost (rises 42" above stage height) and inner (rises 109") rings can rotate 360° and have 12 fountains each. The lift is run by one 15hp hydraulic pump. “It’s a completely custom lift—no electronic parts in it, because it gets completely submerged at one point,” says lighting/production/technical designer Nick Whitehouse. “Normally hydraulic is not very precise, but they’ve made this very precise.”
The water sequence happens during the last two songs and is introduced during “On A Night Like This.” Anderson composed a new opening for the song, which was used by Stephan Miermont to choreograph a team of synchronized swimmers filmed for the screens. “The beginning of the water programming happens in the intro and the main fountain stuff in the body of the song,” says Anderson.
The Fountain People, in coordination with Tait Towers, designed and integrated the water effects and supplied the custom water lighting fixtures. A variety of fountains grace the stage. The B-stage has thin fountains that surround the tiered lift. Ten fountains in the main stage pools add air to the streams, making them appear bulkier. Each runway has six vertical shooters that can reach 30' high. Five arching jets shoot down the runway, and two cross-stage shooters reach the opposite runway. The main stage and runway fountains, and the B-stage pool have custom LEDs installed. An array of 2.5hp and 7.5hp pumps circulate and drive the system, and the water is always circulating and heated.
“We have a series of 11 tanks under the runways and two tanks under the stage,” says Zangen. “Each runway has three platforms making up the area of the series of fountain heads. There are the thin pieces in the middle that have all the mechanics, solenoids, switches, and functions, and the outer pieces are filled with the holes for the catch. So essentially, one runway section is made up of five parts: catch basins, the three platform pieces, and the tank.”
Covering the stage in water required a lot of planning from the designers and engineers. “We were really conscious of safety,” says Whitehouse. The catch system and waterproof decking are keys to the success of the water integration. “The runway platforms are aluminum frames, and inset into each one is rubber material on marine plywood with all sorts of marine-grade glues,” adds Zangen. After trying nearly 50 materials, recycled rubber flooring made from old tires was picked for the deck surface, with holes for drainage. The water drains into sheets of bent, flexible plastic located underneath the deck, with funnels emptying directly into the tanks. The water is then reheated and recirculated. Carrying the water is approximately 1π miles of green hose, nicknamed “Medusa” in the shop during construction.
Controlling the water is another undertaking. “There are 300 axes of motion in the stage—more than most installed Vegas Cirque shows,” Whitehouse says. “The water system alone has 230 of them.” Each fountain has numerous control parameters, including pump speed, which sets shooting distance, solenoids that open and close the system, recirculation, and velocity, among others. This level of control is time-consuming. “We had three weeks of tech to do everything,” adds Whitehouse. “There’s a lot of programming for the water. It’s only eight minutes of the show, but it’s a spectacular eight minutes.”
The water elements, flying, and stage lifts are controlled from one FTSI automation systemlocated at front-of-house. Evacuation of the system is surprisingly fast, taking only 30 minutes for the entire system using a dedicated evacuation unit with fire hoses. “The stage on its own weighs 60,000lbs when full of water,” says Whitehouse. “So it’s not a small hunk of machinery.” Huge as it is, the entire stage load-in takes approximately eight hours, plus four for rigging, and it loads out in only three.
Given the potential complications of touring water, the crew supported the idea, and venues actually welcomed it, knowing the precautions. “No one’s ever toured this much water and this type of system,” explains Zangen. “At certain points, we’ve had tanker trucks show up with water to speed up the process, but other times, we just used the venue’s water supplies.” Still, there were some skeptics, according to Anderson. “The idea of taking water on the road was one everyone advised us against, which is, of course, why we did it and proved them all wrong,” he says.
Stay tuned for more about this tour, including the lighting and projection elements, as well as the intricate flying and props.
Steven Battaglia is a New York-based technical director and lighting designer. He is an integral part of the production/operations staff at Baryshnikov Arts Center.