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ETC Eos consoles give big lighting capabilities to newly renovated Bolshoi Theater

ETC Eos consoles give big lighting capabilities to newly renovated Bolshoi Theater 12/14/2011

After six years of construction, Russia’s Bolshoi Theater – one of the world’s preeminent cultural meccas for opera and ballet – has finally reopened its doors to newfound glory. The massive renovation project was focused on preserving the architectural and artistic features of the building while adding modern necessities and installing state-of-the-art technology in the theater’s historic main hall, including a completely new lighting system controlled by an ETC Eos® lighting control system.

The unparalleled scale of this reconstruction project is a testament to all that the theater has gone through. The Bolshoi was founded in 1776 and moved to its current location on Moscow’s Theater Square in 1780. The theater was completely destroyed by a fire in 1805, and the current structure was built in its place in 1825. The building was put out of service for three years after being severely wounded during another fire in 1853. It survived bomb blasts during WWII and shoddy renovations during Soviet times that damaged acoustics and removed many of the Imperial-era artistic elements.

The Bolshoi’s reconstruction project cost nearly a billion dollars and took three years longer than planned to complete because the challenges the theater faced were much more severe than originally thought. The main hall closed on July 2nd, 2005, in order to address deep cracks in support columns and walls, foundations nearly collapsing, outdated and overworked electrical systems, poor acoustics, insufficient space, a lack of handicap-accessibility, and inferior fire-safety standards. By the end of the project, nearly 3,500 people worked round the clock to complete the construction and add final touches in time for the theater’s grand gala concert on Friday, October 28th, 2011.

The reopening marks the beginning of the Bolshoi’s 236th season, with a schedule bigger and busier than any in the theater’s history – 365 performances, with a staggering 319 shows at home. To keep up with the hectic performance schedule in the main hall, and to ensure that the lighting is as stunning as the building itself, the Bolshoi chose ETC Eos consoles to control the brand new light rig. The system consists of three Eos consoles – one main board and two backups – and a full set of ETC control accessories, from Radio Remote Focus Units (RRFU) to Universal Fader Wings. The system originally had 8,000 channels, but the theater upgraded to 16,000 before the reopening.

The Eos system controls 900 lighting fixtures – 600 of them located on stage. The rig includes conventional lights – like 5° and 10° ETC Source Four® fixtures – moving heads and scrollers. There are also six followspots located on the hall’s top balcony that are operated manually, but if an operator misses a cue, the Eos console can take over and run the followspot. Says lighting designer Yelena Drevalyova: “Based on the amount of fixtures we have to control, we chose Eos for its size and what it can handle. We looked at other consoles but Eos was the best console to fit our needs. We’re really happy with Eos. The quick access to parameters is my favorite feature.”

Eos gives designers and programmers the opportunity to plan a production’s lighting design in advance using visualization software. They can have the whole show plotted before they even set foot in the theater for a rehearsal. Before the Bolshoi purchased the Eos consoles, lighting rehearsals – held right before show time – could take hours, but now operators can quickly and easily make adjustments to the design using remote control. During performances, the lighting is completely preprogrammed, with very little done on the fly, but programmers can make last-minute changes if necessary.

The Eos system also allows programmers the ability to control the legendary two-ton crystal chandelier that hangs in the main theater. Originally lit by candles and gaslights before an electrical station was built to support the theater, the chandelier was refurbished and updated during the reconstruction project to include modern bulbs that can be dimmed by Eos. In addition, Eos can control house, lobby and corridor lighting.

A twelve-person team (six programmers, four designers, one head designer and an assistant) is responsible for lighting at the Bolshoi. ETC dealer Doka – who managed the daunting task of providing and installing all of the stage technology during the renovation – led a training on Eos at the Bolshoi shortly after the lighting crew purchased the consoles. Then, the team traveled for further training to Holzkirchen, Germany, to the ETC office that oversees sales and service for Eastern Europe. And just a few months before the theater reopened, they were invited to ETC’s headquarters in Middleton, Wisconsin, to meet the experts behind Eos.

The Bolshoi now has three working stages compared to just one before the reconstruction began, and they will be putting all three to good use. Prior to construction, a new, smaller stage was erected in an adjacent building, so the troupes’ repertoire was not interrupted while the main stage was closed for repairs. The new stage could accommodate most performances, but its size restricted the Bolshoi troupes from presenting some of their larger productions, so most of those shows were shown on tour in other countries or in the Kremlin Palace Theater. With the reopening of the main stage, the new hall is used for experimental shows, contemporary opera performances and new ballets, while all classical productions are shown on the main stage. The lighting team plans to add Eos consoles to the new hall’s system in the future, so it will have the same control capabilities as the main hall.

During the reconstruction, a completely new venue was added to the Bolshoi complex – a 330-seat multipurpose concert hall located six stories underground. The concert hall features a 475.7-square-foot (44.2-square-meter) stage that is used for rehearsals, chamber orchestra concerts and other small presentations, and its seating can be rearranged to fit the needs of each event.

Construction workers, restorers and others who helped with the renovation got a sneak peek of the new capabilities that the main stage offers. As a thank-you for their dedication, they were invited on October 2nd, 2011, to watch a dress rehearsal of the reopening concert that also served as the first full-scale practice-run of the Eos system. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other distinguished guests attended the official gala concert for the reopening of the main hall on October 28th, with hundreds gathering in Theater Square outside the Bolshoi to watch it live on TV. They witnessed the first official performance in the newly refurbished main hall and the maiden voyage for the Bolshoi’s Eos consoles.

The Bolshoi’s regular performance schedule for the main stage began on November 2nd, 2011, with Mikhail Glinka’s opera Ruslan and Ludmila, followed two weeks later by a grandiose premiere of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s ballet Sleeping Beauty. With those shows, the Bolshoi opened a new era of world-class performances with incredible technical capabilities – lit every step of the way by ETC Eos.