Warm, colorful lighting by Eric Champoux helps create a wonderful world of kinetic, acrobatic ‘insects’ living under the big top in OVO, Cirque du Soleil’s most recent touring show. Live Design’s Ellen Lampert-Gréaux chats with the LD about the challenges he found in lighting OVO, and his ultimate success in creating a beautifully vibrant production.

Live Design: This is your first show for Cirque du Soleil, as well first show in a tent. What challenges and constraints did you find designing for a tour and in the tent?
EC: First of all, there were restricted lighting positions: four masts, the cupola, and the touring towers. Coming from the theatre, I am used to traditional stages with a large number of electrics and a lot of power. The second surprise came from the fact that in the tent, the majority of the hanging points belong to the rigging department, because there are dozens of cables that have to circulate around the masts and in the cupola to create the performance style embraced by Cirque du Soleil.

LD: What were your solutions to these challenges?
EC: From the beginning, I felt the need to have a grid. So I duplicated the shape of the cupola and enlarged it in order to be lower and larger than the original cupola. Yet in doing so, a new challenge cropped up, as I had to leave the central aerial space free for the number, “Flying Act.” Since I had to greatly reduce the number of sources on the masts, I opted for a design based almost entirely on moving lights.

LD: How would you describe the lighting "look" for OVO?
EC: The lighting for OVO is very naturalistic, warm, and full of color. I worked exclusively in that direction. In fact, it was a joint decision made by Deborah Colker (director), Gringo Cardia (sets) and me. I worked with a lot of images inspired by nature. At first, we wanted the entire performance to take place within the space of 24 hours, and we wanted to recreate the changing light of day… under the grass, under the water, in the fog, etc… So I disciplined myself to follow the logical order of things. I created a photo dossier and storyboards for each moment of the day, and for each number. I even went as far as completely redoing the lighting for a number simply because it was moved in the order of the show, and I was worried about keeping the time of day in the right order. My assistant regularly kept me in the right time frame during moments of intense creation, by showing me the images in my timeline for the show.

Right up to the moment where I let myself be carried away by the bright, bold colors that surround us, when I realized that the color in nature does not come from the light but from living beings and objects. Thus the green of the forest does not come from the light, but from each of the leaves on each of the trees; the blue of a lake is the reflection of the sky through light; the bright orange or clear mauve of the clouds at sunset are not created simply by the light by also by the layers of gas that live between the clouds and the sun. From that moment on, I started to create my images differently. I found the key to what I was looking to reproduce. Using lights and artificial colors, I wanted to reproduce the exuberance of the entire biosphere.

LD: Which luminaires are where, and why? Is there a workhorse among the fixtures? LED fixtures?
EC: Considering the space restrictions, I opted for a rig of moving lights with a few conventionals. Pour the wash units, I used 22 Martin TW1 Tungsten fixtures, since I didn’t want to lose the warmth in the lamps. And since I love the light of a standard PAR64, I wanted a wash that would marry perfectly with my PAR64s with color scrollers. Five wash units per mast, and two on the floor. As for the spot fixtures, I chose 15 Martin MAC700s, a fixture that already proved itself on Kooza in 2007. There are two units per mast, two on the floor, and five in the grid. Each of the wash and spot fixtures was programmed in 50 different positions to allow me maximum freedom once we got on stage. As I also needed to move to the next scene in a fluid manner, I added a complete backwash of PAR64s with scrollers that blend nicely with the TW1s, and provide a unified point of view. The conventionals also comprise a lot of ETC Source Fours with gobo patterns for the double layer of Skins (scenic fabric) and for all the aerial positions. To light the fabric of the Big Top behind the scenic wall, I used 5kW Fresnels with scrollers to be able to work against a backdrop of color. By doing so, I used the tent as a cyclorama in a traditional theatre. I also used approximately 185 G2-LED RGB units as footlights around the stage and also at the foot of the wall, to help light the skins, add color to the wall, and pick out the characters that live under the skins. There are also about 15 LDDE SpectraWOW DMX-controllable LEDs with color mixing system… small, luminous jewels, powerful and easy to use, which are built into the Wall to simulate luminescent insect eggs.

LD: Did you do anything specific to evoke the animal kingdom on stage? How did you light the insect-like costumes?
EC: You can see I used a lot of foliage gobos and breakup patterns as well as other textures taken from nature, plus a lot of spider web gobos for the number, “Web.” This was a great number to work on as there was already an immense white spider web under the Big Top and I added dozens of spider web gobos, layering texture upon texture. The costume designer, Liz Vandal, did incredible work. All of the costumes are extremely vibrant and easy to light. The colors are so lively and the fabrics very rich.

LD: Which scene do you especially like? Can you describe what is happening with the lighting in this scene?
EC: I quite like the lighting design for the number, “Slackwire.” In fact, it was a double challenge since the artist was extremely demanding in terms of safety for his act. And in spite of everything, the result is striking. I like the depth of the colors on the Wall, with the acrobat floating in the air on his wire, and the structure that holds the wire moving up and down. At first I wanted to follow the artist with a followspot, but his position and the position of the aerial structure meant that he was completely blinded, and with the “ups and downs,” it was far from being easy to cover him in a traditional way. So I used four MAC700s at the tops of the masts. The board operator moves these manually between a low position and a high position. This allows the artist total freedom of movement. I find that this number comes closest to my eye as a painter, in its colors, its structure, and the way the light hits the body and the objects.

Upcoming tour dates for OVO
Hartford: Opens on June 17, 2010
Boston: Opens on July 22, 2010
Washington DC: Opens on September 9, 2010
Atlanta: Opens on November 4, 2010