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Taking No Chance

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Celine Dion’s Taking Chances world tour features a complex portable system

For nearly five years, Celine Dion put on one of the most ambitious and spectacular shows in Las Vegas, performing “A New Day...” for a consistently packed house at the specially designed 4000-seat Colosseum at Caesars Palace. By the time the show had closed in December 2007, Celine had released her new Taking Chances album.

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The “Taking Chances” tour, which runs into 2009, has reached No. 1 on tour charts and sold out at venues across five continents. Just three months later, she took the show on the road and launched a new worldwide tour from Johannesburg, South Africa.

In creating the “Taking Chances” tour, Celine and her team wanted to shed the theatrical feel she had successfully cultivated in Las Vegas and instead establish a youthful and stylish feel with a vibe better suited to arena performances. Jamie King, who had directed international tours for Madonna, Christina Aguilera, the Spice Girls, Avril Lavigne, and Kanye West, joined forces with Celine and her team, serving as creative director for the tour and helping her to realize a fresh look with a fashion-show edge.

To showcase not just Celine’s voice, but also her physical presence and multiple fashion-inspired costumes and dance sequences, the singer and her team opted to play in the round. MontrEal’s Scène Éthique thus was commissioned to create a unique 48- foot by 48-foot central platform, equipped with numerous lifts and conveyor belts, to highlight Celine and her dancers and bring them within reach, literally, of fans.

“Performing in the round is always challenging, even when you’ve done it before,” says Yves Aucoin, Celine’s production and lighting designer. “Celine’s audience has followed her for a long, long time, and we can’t fool them. They want to hear her greatest hit songs, and they want to see her during every moment of her

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Pandoras Box real-time compositing media server from Coolux Media Systems. performance. With Celine’s skill as a performer, it’s natural to place her in the middle of the arena. Our goal was to keep her unobstructed, and we created the stage to get as close as possible to this ideal.”

Aucoin, whose influences range widely from fashion to architecture to amateur YouTube videos, had 36-foot runways added to each side of the stage. These “wings” enable Celine to get out into the audience and even high-five fans as she performs. To address the difficulty of creating a real set in the middle of an arena, Aucoin and his colleagues use video screens in, on, around, and above the stage to create different environments for each song.

A powerful grandMA lighting desk at Aucoin’s fingertips gives him comfortable control over lighting, primarily comprising VARI*LITE Series 3000 models, which he selected for the quality of their movement. Using a combination of washes and spots, as well as follow-spots and strobes, Aucoin treats the stage like the runway it resembles. The integration of video elements into the stage allows him to blend lighting and video in complementary roles.

Working along with Aucoin, Louis- Philippe Gaudreau uses several Pandoras Box real-time compositing media servers from Coolux to control and mix video content for on-stage display. The Pandoras Box Media Servers and Pandoras Box Media Manager both communicate with Aucoin’s grandMA lighting desk, allowing him to maintain control even though the majority of video sequences run out of a timeline. When the team needs to address irregularities in stage dimensions or tweak aspects such as color correction or scaling, the Coolux system allows for real-time changes as needed.

Video director Mireille Veillet uses a Thomson Grass Valley to switch stored and live video sources for delivery to on-stage screens. Visuals, including stored HD footage of Celine and video segments designed by Dago Gonzalez from L.A.’s Veneno, are displayed above the stage on two sets of screens: four Stealth LEDs from Element Labs arranged in varying configurations and four sets of two stacked Christie Digital Roadster HD projectors that illuminate four 16-foot by 26-foot Gerriets roll-up screens, one on each side of the stage.

One redundant Pandoras Box Media Server feeds the Stealth LED screens, which can move up, down, and rotate, while another such system feeds DreamPanel LED floor tiles from Ayrton, which cover the stage floor and runways, lighting Celine and her eight dancers with their images. A third Pandoras Box system mixes HD camera feeds with stored visual content, which are output to plasma screens surrounding the stage to give fans in the first rows an uninterrupted view of Celine even when she is on the far side of the stage.

Because of the in-the-round stage design, monitor mixing takes place behind the scenes on one of two identical Studer Vista 5 SR digital live sound consoles. The monitor version, which features 64 mono and 36 stereo inputs, routing to 16 aux mono and 20 aux stereo outputs, plus a master stereo and 20 stereo matrix busses, is used by Jean-Charles Ethier to control a dozen click tracks and generate 24 stereo inear mixes, fed to stage performers via Sennheiser EK 300 IEM G2 bodypack receivers and Ultimate Ears UE-11 professional monitors.

The second Vista 5 SR unit is used by engineer François Desjardins at the FOH position, where the console’s compact size is a particularly valuable benefit. Low weight and heat generation also make the Vista 5 SR a good fit for touring, and parameters of each unit can be saved to a USB stick prior to each show and recalled conveniently from memory during setup. The FOH Vista 5 SR offers 64 mono inputs (54 plus 10 spares), 36 stereo inputs (15 plus eight effects returns and

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Aucoin and Gaudreau rely on Pandoras Box Media Servers from Coolux to create the visual spectacle that reaches all fans in the arena. five spares), eight aux mono outputs (seven effects sends plus a spare), ten aux stereo outputs (eight sends to stage plus two spares), eight stereo group busses, four master stereo, and four stereo matrix busses, all of which feature full signal processing. External systems from TC Electronic, Jünger Audio, and XTA Electronics enable refinement of vocal channels with additional effects, reverb, and de-esser processing.

Celine’s tour has long relied on Meyer Sound PA systems for reproducing vocals, and for “Taking Chances” the Meyer Milo line array, under the control of a Galileo loudspeaker management system, offered the flexibility and the low weight required for a fastpaced tour covering many cities and venues in very little time. Meyer’s M’elodie high-power curvilinear array loudspeaker and CQ-2 loudspeaker provide front and side fill around the stage, and the company’s MAPP acoustical prediction program enables configuration of all Meyer systems for each show and venue.

“‘Taking Chances’ is the best in-theround show I’ve done for the arena environment,” says Aucoin. “It’s not that there is any new magic exactly, but that we use creative elements — on-stage conveyor belts, transparent screens, the combination of prerecorded imagery with live video — so well. I’m here to suggest ideas, but it’s up to Celine to play well with the toys we give her and to make it live. For this show, we were on the same page, and it paid off.”

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