“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.
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
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
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.
- 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.
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 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.