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Poles & Trampo
Solo Tissue
Flying Trapeze




Performance Space
    “The scenic atmosphere of ZED evokes the pinnacle of the High Renaissance and the dawn of the Mechanical Age.” — François Séguin

The story of ZED blossoms in an environment that recalls antique astronomical and navigational instruments set in an ancient cosmos that is at the same time new and somehow familiar. In fact the set takes its inspiration from many eras and influences: ancient science, the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, the products of the early days of the Mechanical Age, nautical instruments and astronomy all play a part in creating an atmosphere of solidity and tradition, floating in space that looks toward the future. As an example, on the floor of the stage is a representation of the Milky Way, with symbols referring to the different phases of the moon, and star placements.

An alphabet of 26 symbols, known as the Zed Alphabet, appears throughout the set and spells out the periodic table of the elements as well as other words related to the production. And five spheres of various diameters, each displaying their own special effects, form a miniature representation of an Astrolabe - a micro world that reflects the macro world. Made mostly of steel, the suspended astrolabe weights 19,504 kilograms (43,000 pounds) and is fitted with a net that can deploy and retract as needed.

Set & Stage

The theater was quite unique as it was the first permanent Cirque du Soleil Theater outside of North America (they're either located in Las Vegas or Orlando). It opened after about two years of construction and a total business cost of 14 billion yen. The distinctive Theatre roof formed with polyhedrons is designed in the image of a circus tent, the very beginnings of Cirque du Soleil. It is specifically designed to harness the sun's rays from any direction and its glass exterior definitely presents an appearance befitting Cirque du Soleil, the Circus of the Sun. By the numbers: the building stands about 35 meters high, has approximately 5,400 square-meters of building area and 14,000 square-meters of total floor space to get lost on. It sat 2,170 people.

Inside is equally impressive.

When the audience first enters the theatre, the set is wrapped in a large sheet and the auditorium gives no clues or visual cues as to where they are or where the show is situated. The spectacular imagery is revealed when the cover is whisked away in a sudden, sweeping gesture by a character inspired by The Fool in the Tarot. This dramatic moment instantly plunges the audience into the world of ZED.

In keeping with the physical dimensions of the theatre and the themes of the show (in which one community of characters inhabits the sky and the other community is earthbound), the set emphasizes verticality as a visual reinforcement to the narrative, as well as meeting the demands of the show’s acrobatics. While the materials are unquestionably rich, the colors – suggesting an antique patina of burnished metals and polished wood tones – are intentionally somewhat monochrome and muted, and the look is quite dark, reminiscent of 19th century interiors. The objective is to focus more attention on the performing artists than on their surroundings.

Since this is a Cirque du Soleil show, the set must also accommodate a large amount of acrobatic rigging, lighting and sound equipment, and designer François Séguin decided to integrate it into the set as much as possible, rather than impose it on the décor. His design minimizes the visibility of all the winches, rigging, cables and the setting up needed to perform complex acrobatic numbers.

Cirque du Soleil Tokyo's stage is one of the largest in Japan with a width of about 35 meters, a depth of about 20 meters, and a height to the ceiling of about 21 meters. The open, semi-circular stage thrusts out into the audience allowing guests to feel even closer to the action. A grid above the audience covers about 1,700 square meters of the ceiling and can support a load of 750 kilograms per square meters. This grid is used for special mechanical equipment and devices that make possible various stage effects.

Such as the "basket" winch from Fisher Technical, a custom ten horsepower counterweight assist winch that provides the means for rigidly securing a four ton piece of scenic and acrobatic equipment through an enormous range of loading conditions; the "net" winches, used to deploy and tension the safety net system for the trapeze (It is a two stage machine, with the first stage rotating a large drum to pull the stage width net into its initial slack position. After engaging a huge ratchet backstop on the first stage, the second stage drives a large ball screw to pull the entire winch system backward (riding on heavy duty FTSI FastTrack) to put over 7 tons of tension on the net); and the "vortex" winches that breathe life into the breathtaking opening curtain effect (done using 25 hp motors coupled with huge drums that are over eight feet in length and four feet in diameter. At over 25 linear feet per second, the drums collect almost an acre of fabric in the blink of an eye!). Underneath the stage is one of the world's largest trap rooms with a depth of six meters. All these elements make it possible to present a show that can only be staged at a permanent theater.

The theater's 2,170 seats are arranged around the semi-circular stage with the seats at the back of the theater about 30 meters away, giving the audience a sense of being close to the action. The seats at the front of the theater are designed to allow a good view of Cirque du Soleil's spectacular aerial acrobatics and other effects by having seat backs that recline and extra space between rows. All the seats have cup holders so that guests can enjoy refreshments while they watch the show. These elements all help provide a comfortable and enjoyable ambience in the theater.

To ensure that the highest quality performance can always be presented, the backstage area includes dressing rooms that can accommodate a total of 70 performers, a training room for physical care and treatment, and a rehearsal room with a 10-meter-high ceiling where acrobats can rehearse. Also backstage are acrobatic and other equipment, a metal workshop for maintaining special equipment, and a costume shop where costumes are maintained.

Some Details:

  • Made mostly of steel, the suspended astrolabe weighs 19, 504 kg (43,000lbs).

  • The enormous 10m globe, which can move vertically, is decorated with meridians and parallels and fitted with a net that can deploy and retract as needed.

  • Winches hidden inside the globe are used to transport the artists, stage equipment and acrobatic equipment throughout the show.

  • On the floor of the stage, there is a representation of the Milky Way and symbols referring to the different phases of the moon.

  • A door leading under the stage is installed inside a book that the clowns Oulaï and Nalaï find at the beginning of the show. When they open it, they plunge inside, literally engulfed by the pages.

  • The Vortex, the white canvas that wraps the stage at the start of the show, comprises more than 5,600 square meters of material. Two motors pull it at a speed of six meters per second, making the entire surface vanish in 25 seconds.

  • During the Birth of the Sky scene, the set features a firmament of thousands of stars. To achieve this effect the vault of the Astrolabe is covered with 3,500 LEDs and the floor of the stage has more than 900 fiber optic points of light.

  • An alphabet of 26 symbols, The Zed Alpha, was created for the production. It appears in the set design and shows the periodic table of the elements as well as words related to components of the show.

  • Five spheres of various diameters, each displaying its own special effects, form a miniature representation of the Astrolabe – a micro world that reflects the macro world.
Sound Design

Cirque du Soleil's ZED thrills Tokyo audiences with a soaring, acrobatics-filled musical fantasy about a mythological-comical character who reconciles earth and sky. At Tokyo Disney Resort's purpose-built 2,150-seat theater, the dynamic soundscape created by sound designers François Bergeron and Vikram Kirby helps entice the guests into a world of imagination, giving the show a heightened emotional texture using Meyer Sound's Constellation electroacoustic architecture.

To establish the set design concept, designer François Séguin started with a form inspired by the astrolabe. His underlying intention was to fill the whole stage as if it were a frame from a film, and in terms of aesthetics, his design evokes the High Renaissance and the Mechanical Age. Brass and copper components, precision engineering, painstaking craftsmanship and scientific ingenuity combine to create the impression that the audience is actually inside – and sometimes outside – a complex mechanical astrolabe floating in space. Diderot’s Encyclopedia, which began to be published in 1751, also informed the designs. “Diderot, the first French encyclopedia, codified knowledge and is filled with images of mechanical devices,” says designer François Séguin.

Part of Meyer Sound's LCS Series, Constellation incorporates the physical acoustics of a space with powerful technology and expert services to create flexible acoustical environments. As applied in ZED, Constellation utilizes 97 compact loudspeakers, 32 microphones, and five dedicated VRAS processors to afford the liberty of creating fully adaptable acoustics.

"Constellation can sound absolutely natural, if that's what you want," says Principal Sound Designer François Bergeron, who is also CFO of Burbank, Calif.-based Thinkwell Design and Production and designer for six prior Cirque du Soleil shows, "but in pure sound design it also lets you play with the laws of physics. You can create acoustic spaces that cannot exist in the physical world. For example, at one point, the director wanted to create the sounds of a bizarre world using only ambient sounds in the room. With Constellation, we met his request, creating room acoustics impossible to achieve with physical architecture."

Constellation in the ZED theater is designed to work hand-in-glove with the Meyer Sound self-powered primary and surround audio systems. Everything is linked and controlled by one of the largest CueConsole modular control surfaces ever assembled: 14 Matrix3 processors, six fader modules, 11 meter bridges, plus transporter and editor, together giving discrete access to 192 inputs and 168 outputs. Throughout the show, Constellation presets are recalled from a cue list and controlled using the CueConsole.

"The Meyer Sound system affords a whole different level of capabilities," adds Kirby, "including tailoring inputs and outputs to suit the show, specifying exactly what each cue does, and configuring the control surface to the size of the booth. ZED was in rehearsals for five months and, by the end of that time, the LCS system felt like a musical instrument that played the spectral and spatial composition of the mix."

The ZED theater is designed to be an acoustically dry room, which tends to keep the audience from perceiving themselves to be part of a crowd. According to Tim Younghans, head of audio for ZED, Constellation's early reverberation provides an effective solution to this problem. "Dynamic mixing with Constellation enables me to evoke a greater response from the audience, allowing a burst of applause, or of 'oohs' and 'aaahs', to spread across the theater," says Younghans. "You could say Constellation is the bridge between the show and the audience."

The main audio system comprises main left and right hangs of five M'elodie line array loudspeakers each, in addition to an unusual arrangement of a center array of five matrixed and cross-firing SB-2 sound beams. Arranged in an upstage arc, they anchor the sound to the stage while maintaining a uniform L-C-R image at all seats. Thundering bass descends from ten flown 700-HP subwoofers, while intimacy is maintained at more distant seats by delay systems of 12 CQ-1, 11 UPJ-1P VariO, and 16 MM-4 loudspeakers. Surround effects envelop the audience with 81 additional UPM-1P, UPJ-1P, CQ-1, and Stella-8C loudspeakers, the latter models recessed into pony walls behind the audience.

For Bergeron, the main system provides the primary instrument for carrying the performance, but it's Constellation that allows him to play the room acoustics for emotional effect. "Constellation allows us to transport the audience from one specific room to multiple environments," he relates. "It's like an audio zoom-in and zoom-out. When you zoom in, the theater sounds dry and closed in, but when you zoom out it feels spacious and lush. It becomes part of the emotional roller-coaster for the audience."

The Meyer Sound audio systems were provided by SC Alliance, with support from ATL, Inc., Meyer Sound's Japanese distributor; installation was by Yamaha Sound System. The theater's striking, circus-tent-inspired design is the work of Canadian architects Saucier + Perrotte. The hosting company for the production is Oriental Land Company, Ltd., with planning cooperation from Disney.

Cirque Corner