Mark Kenyon & ELP Illuminate Blackpool Tower Ballroom For Strictly Come Dancing
A special live outside broadcast of the hit BBC1 show Strictly Come Dancing was transmitted from the Blackpool Tower Ballroom on Saturday 20 November. The BBC1 show moved out of TV centre and came back to the recognised home of ballroom dancing.
Hosted by Bruce Forsyth and Natasha Kaplinsky this prime time light entertainment show regularly pulls in around 9 million viewers making it one of most popular weekend shows on the box. The glitz and glamour, therefore, needed to be suitably cranked up!
Lighting Director Mark Kenyon working alongside a six man ELP crew created a visually stunning show. The opulent architecture, infamous dance floor and lavish décor of the Tower Ballroom were accentuated by a combination of digital moving lights, conventional 6 lamp bars and modern LED systems.
The ELP lighting equipment list included amongst others….
* 44 assorted Source 4 profiles
* 30 Studio Colours
* 28 Thomas PAR64 chrome floorcans
* 18 PAR 64 six lamp bars
* 72 Chroma Strips
* 23 Martin Mac 2000
* 12 Martin Mac 500
* 11 Arri Junior Fresnels
As crew chief Joe Sherno explains the first hurdle was installing a large lighting rig into an old building which was never designed to accommodate so much new technology.
"Accessibility was a real problem. A massive amount of gear had to be hauled up four floors. The service lift did not go up very far and the doorways throughout the building were too narrow for many of our road trunks."
There were also other practical considerations with the venue. The Ballroom is a national treasure and so extra care obviously had to be taken with rigging and hanging lights. Also the Tower is a working building during the day with visitors touring its various attractions. So the ELP crew had to work around these inconveniences.
Power in the building is also limited to 300 amp 3 phase. The installed lighting rig could pull a lot more than this so the board operators needed to be mindful of overloading the system.
For this particular production LD Mark Kenyon singled out a few essential lights which made a significant contribution:
Follow spots were of course critical to following dancers around the floor and Mark had four ELP Super Troupers and four Juliat 2.5k tungsten spots trained on the dance floor and the stage area.
The Troupers targeted the stage entrance and walkway while the Juliats continuously roamed the dance floor.
The dance floor area was lit off a truss rig directly overhead so that floor patterns didn't reflect onto the dancer's faces. Their beaming grins and heavy make up were instead illuminated by four (side on) follow spots. The spots were also used as 'key lights' for Brucee as he was continually on the move.
Stationary participants like the judging panel were lit using Mark Kenyon's favourite key light - the Source 4. "Their neat shuttering feature means that they are the most flexible and reliable to use." Comments Kenyon.
Clay Paky Stage Colour 300 (toasters) were used to define the edge of the dance floor and provide a separation buffer between the dancing area and the audience.
Set on the ground 16 of these aluminium cased digital moving lights provided a solid base on which to lay additional lighting effects. They provided further up light for the dancers faces and, as they were almost always in camera vision, acted as immediate mood changers.
The Toasters sleek shiny appearance was also an added bonus and visually contrasted next to some decorative plain white cubes which were part of the overall set. These decorative cube features were made from a white frosted Perspex. Each contained a Pulsar Chroma Heart and was therefore able to colour sync in with the other Chroma Battons around the building.
72 LED Chroma Strips were used on every level around the four walls of the venue. "If I had to name one thing that provided the wow factor within the building it was the LED batons". Comments Kenyon. They accentuated the size of the venue and were part of Mark's overall lighting strategy of using multiple layers to provide a deep and compelling visual texture.
"In the same way that looking at the twinkling lights of a fishing harbour or city skyline at night is fascinating to look at… I wanted to crate a compelling rich texture in the venue. We used row upon row of lighting to create a sense of depth and gripping visual interest. We were rigorous in our attention to detail"
Examples of this included how Mark gave the walls and pillars in the furthest background (which one could hardly see they were so far away) a red colour wash so that they would also become part of the layered colour texture. Dozens of table lamps for the cabaret tables provided another textural layer as did the use of the in house chandeliers, mirror balls and on stage lighting effects.
Mark was able to instantly assess the impact of this complex approach as he insisted on having a preview monitor on each of the 13 camera positions. This was made possible using a 'Zandar' viewing system linked to a plasma screen providing immediate access to every camera shot.
"I guess there is an artistic debate here" remarked the Lighting Director. "The ballroom dancing purists would prefer if the dance floor was just lit in a bright white wash with no visual distractions so that all the focus was on the dancers gliding movements, their footwork and their body interaction. If you watch old episodes of Come Dancing this is how it used to be lit…."
….But this is prime time Saturday night light entertainment. The format demands a big performance and that's what I gave them."
Mark Kenyon - Lighting Director
Joe Sherno - Crew Chief
Steve Cameron Dimmers
Craig Broughton - Technology
Matt Kirby - Rigger
Miec Hegget - Lighting tech
Roger Williams - Board Operator (technology)
Darren Lovell - Board operator (generic)
David Bishop - Lighting tech / Stalking