Boston Ballet Dances on Air Painted by VARI*LITE® Fixtures
Published Saturday, May 1, 2004

The 2003-2004 season marks a first for Boston Ballet. It is the first season the Company has used an automated lighting rig for its major productions and also its repertory set. There are 20 VL1000™ ERS luminaires in the ballet's repertory. For the The Nutcracker, the automated lighting package included 28 VL1000 ERS luminaires and six VL3000™ Spot luminaires.

"The VL1000 fixtures in particular have just been an amazing tool for us this season," said Boston Ballet Lighting Director Karim Badwan. "And the VL3000 Spot luminaires worked great as a top light. The fact that they are bright and punchy is great because we used them as a backlight. Just six of the VL3000 Spot fixtures gave us a coverage area that that we were barely able to achieve from 24 automated fixtures from another manufacturer."

The push for automation came as a result of Boston Ballet's repertory set. Rather than having to have a focus call, the ballet would have automatic switches. Designers could come in and use the automated repertory plot rather than using the focused portion of the conventional plot to do the smaller repertory sets.

In addition to the extra flexibility, the automated lights - purchased from Boston-based High Output (www.highoutput.com) - allowed the ballet company to reduce the total number of lights in its lighting system and save many hours of labor.

Boston Ballet's largest show is the annual production of The Nutcracker, a huge scenic show with about 15 tractor-trailer rigs of equipment. In previous years the Nutcracker plot has contained 700 plus conventional lights. This seasons primary Lighting Designer Pierre Lavoie, was able to reduce the convention rig by more than 50 percent, with only 300 or so conventionals in addition to the moving light system. The focus call for the production dropped from two 8 hour calls to a single 8-hour call.

A lot of the ballet performances use numerous backdrops for stage scenery. If a show had six different backdrops - a garden scene, a cityscape, an apartment, etc. - the lighting designer would require an entire system of conventional lights dedicated to each individual drop. With the automated fixtures, Lavoie was able to program a specific look for each drop using the same group of automated fixtures. For each particular segment of the show, he could simply access the preprogrammed cues and the lights would adjust themselves for the scene.

This benefit alone allowed Lavoie and Badwan to eliminate an entire high-side lighting system, which was approximately 200 conventional lights. This made reliability an even more critical issue.

"If you lose one lamp in a conventional rig, you've lost one light. But if you lose one lamp in an automated system, you may lose the equivalent of 10 or more conventional lights," Badwan explained. "Dependability is huge. It was a struggle to convince a very traditional ballet company that automation was the way to go."

Lavoie and Badwan say the reliability of the VARI*LITE® fixtures have proven themselves night after night.

"People have been able to see that moving lights can be used in a very classical, very traditional manner", says Badwan. The merging of automated and conventional lighting is made easier with such fixtures as the VL1000 ERS who's incandescent color temperature mixes beautify with conventional side light. You get the punch and convenience of a moving light with out the drastic color temp differences, which may not mean a lot to some but in a classical setting it means the world.

And even though there were incredibly fewer fixtures, there was a noticeable brighter light output from the automated luminaires.

"Even with the awesome zoom range of the Series 1000 and VL3000 Spot luminaires, we are still seeing high-grade, high-quality light output," Badwan said.

As would be imagined, ballet performances are noise-critical productions. As such the VL1000 ERS luminaires operate with almost no fan noise. The convection cooling system also had another benefit during the ballet's "snowy" season. Because the Series 1000 fixtures are not fan cooled, there was no issue of the fans sucking the paper (snow) into the lights and creating problems.

As Winter turns to Spring and Boston Ballet's first season under automated fixtures comes to a close, next fall's season expects to be even more thrilling.

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