Amaluna director Diane Paulus is known for productions that go beyond the boundaries of a conventional theatrical setting to involve the audience in immersive environments.
Scott Pask’s set creates a mysterious, verdant, enchanted island whose most important feature is a carefully crafted forest of bamboo-like branches that both frame and surround the action.
Taking his cues from the natural world, especially from forests and plant life, Scott has created an environment that is both immersive and open, with plenty of space for dramatic rituals and ceremonies as well as acrobatic performances.
An Island Forest
The trees thrust upward from the circumference of the Amaluna stage and the Big Top’s tent poles to form an airy canopy. Upstage, the vegetation grows closer to the ground, forming a tunnel-like grotto.
The branches and limbs of the canopy are unmistakably engineered constructions, and the visual references to bamboo are quite evident. It was important to Scott that the forest should be seen to be hand-crafted, however there was no attempt to disguise its components as anything actually found in nature – nothing has been given a patina to look like wood, for example. Yet the feeling of being in a real forest is palpable. The peacock feather decoration that occupies much of the middle of the Amaluna stage is a significant emblematic motif that is echoed in some of Mérédith Caron’s iridescent costumes. The peacock images in the show are inspired by the magnificent bird that accompanies Hera, the Greek goddess of women, marriage and fertility. Legend tells us that the protective “eyes” in its tail watch over women in all the stages of their lives.
Light and Tone
Scott, who initially trained as an architect, regards the entire space as more of an art installation than a stage set, and he has used light to activate it and take the audience to other places and evoke different emotional responses. During the intense drama of the storm, for example, the lighting casts the shadows of the branchlike canopy onto the surface of the Big Top to create a momentary feeling of heightened danger.
The Water-bowl is a piece of acrobatic equipment that doubles as a dramatic set element. It resembles a giant, clear gemstone set in a ring of stylized organic shapes that resemble a vortex captured in time. As it interacts with the lighting, this “jewel” changes its appearance and aura, much like a real precious stone.
Wheels within Wheels
There are relatively few moving parts in the set design, and that was a deliberate choice intended to add a certain elegance to the performances by concentrating the audience’s attention on the human performance. There are no visual effects in the Amaluna set, and the automated mechanical elements are designed to be inconspicuous – almost invisible – even though they are in plain view.
Circular sections of the stage revolve to ensure that the entire audience can see each act from every angle, and that movement is matched by a circular scenic element above the stage: the Carousel – a custom-made ring that houses downward- facing lighting clusters as well as anchor points for flying acrobatic performers.
At times stationary, at times moving, the Carousel can revolve in sync with the stage, or counter-rotate in the opposite direction to give both the artists and the lighting maximum flexibility and range of vertical and horizontal motion. It also allows aerial performers to fly out over the heads of the audience, which emphasizes the immersive concept of the set.
Some Facts about Set Elements
- There are 174 branches in 534 sections – 90 in the canopy and 84 upstage – making a total of 1.7 km or 1.05 miles.
- There are three models of branches in the canopy and 35 in the upstage.
The Carousel and the Grid:
- The 25-ft diameter Carousel weighs 6,000 lbs.
- The Grid weighs 8,600 lbs and includes three acrobatic winches, each able to lift loads up to 400 lbs at 10 feet per second.
- The acrobatic winch in the centre of the Carousel can lift up to 1,000 lbs at 10 feet per second.
- The Water-bowl is 5’5” tall, 7’3” in diameter, and weighs 5,500 lbs when filled with water.
- The six Chandeliers are made of aluminum tubes bent and positioned to create the effect of a mobile with a span of 14.5 ft.