Having released her 11th studio album, Aphrodite, last summer, Kylie Minogue hit the road in February with her biggest and most technically complex show to date, Aphrodite – Les Folies. With more than 20 years in the music industry, her fans have come to expect nothing but epic showmanship from the songstress. The Australian singer’s latest endeavor is a celebration of the Greek goddess Aphrodite in all her forms, with a carefully crafted show that evokes the silver screen of the ‘30s and ‘40s, paying homage to Ziegfeld Follies and visionary Busby Berkeley.
Aphrodite – Les Folies is a mix of form and function, where Greek mythology meets modern fantasy. With over a million moving parts (it was scaled down for the US), the tour was designed by Road Rage, comprising director/stylist William Baker, lighting/production/technical designer Nick Whitehouse, production/stage/props designer Josh Zangen, and production director Steve Dixon. Minogue’s long-standing musical director Steve Anderson once again provided the arrangements. The vibrant and stimulating screen visuals, directed by Baker, were produced by Tom Colbourne of BlinkTV. And what would a Kylie Minogue concert be without fabulous costumes, designed by Dolce and Gabbana? Baker provided a treatment for the show, after spending months working with Minogue. Describing everything including choreography, music, lighting, and set pieces, the 100+ page document details the show’s seven distinct sections, each with its own look and feel, but maintaining the Greek mythology theme throughout. The show’s intro went through about 20 different variations until a final version was set. “It was tempting to go for full-out excitement straight away, but William really wanted it to be an introduction to the world of Aphrodite and sound very underwater-like, moving into the world of ancient Rome and slowly building to the reveal of the goddess Aphrodite,” says Anderson. “Kylie shows are always about the pacing and overall journey. It’s something we spend a lot of time getting absolutely right.”
Zangen describes the concept behind the set as morphing traditional ideas of Greek mythology, “looking at them through a modern lens using early silver screen cinema as that lens. Greek-inspired elements can be seen in the rear temple wall, stone landscape, and many of the props, with the floating curved golden staircases, glowing pools of water, and the larger technical effects giving it that Folies foundation.”
The back wall is eight vertical columns with an ornate Grecian header. Between the columns are seven rear-projection video screens from Harkness. The stage consists of various performance areas: the lower and upper central levels of the main stage (6'- and 13'-high, respectively), pods that flank the stage left and right, three staircases, two runways, and the B-stage. The two runways originate from either side of the stage (loosely based on a heart shape, something that Minogue has always wanted in her shows) leading to the B-stage pool, with a three-tier lift. Three lifts are incorporated into the main stage: an upstage self-climbing prop lift (144"x95") that travels to the upper central level and two props lifts (68"x86") for the lower level further downstage. “We tried to create a very expansive but selective visual,” says Zangen. “The central lower level of the stage is actually quite small when you look at it, but it’s used for about 70% of the show.”
Built into the lower central level of the main stage is a one of the show’s big surprises, a 16'-diameter rotating, raking platform. During “Slow,” Minogue and dancers perform a jazzy cabaret act on the spinning floor, when the deck starts to slowly rake until it reaches a 45° angle. “The idea for the tilt-a-whirl developed and was influenced by Busby Berkeley musicals, where you’d bring in a mirror at 45° above dancers on the floor, and you’d view the scene as if from above through the mirror,” says Zangen. “We approached it saying, ‘How do we update that, get rid of the mirror, tilt the floor, have dancers doing that routine, Kylie at the center still plumb so she can perform, and then add another layer—this giant light box that rotates underneath the female dancers?’ Everybody had a concept of what this was, but nobody, until it all came together, was able to experience it and stand there in awe.”
Tait Towers built the entire set, including the tilt-a-whirl. “It’s beautifully made,” says Whitehouse. “This is the most impressive piece of machinery Tait has ever built.” During the design process, everyone was aware of the platform’s footprint. “It’s a 16' thing that, quite literally, only takes up the 16',” says Zangen. “There are two arms built into the stage, downstage of it, and all the electronics are built into the non-lifting portion, but literally, the entire thing is supported only by those two arms.”
Stay tuned for more about this tour, including the massive fountain setup, as well as the lighting and projection elements.
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.