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  •   A.C Special Projects Provide Display Lighting for the Ballets Russes Exhibition at the V&A

A.C Special Projects Provide Display Lighting for the Ballets Russes Exhibition at the V&A

2nd February 2011

A.C. Special Projects Ltd provided Spotlight Milano, theatre style, architectural fixtures and associated equipment for ‘Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes’ exhibition at the V&A, London.

This major exhibition explores the world of the influential artistic director and impresario Serge Diaghilev and the most exciting dance company of the 20th century, the Ballets Russes. Diaghilev collaborated with the most important artists, composers and designers of the era, astonishing audiences and revolutionising ballet. The exhibition features 300 objects including original costumes, set designs, scores, props, posters and film clips and celebrates Diaghilev’s enduring influence on art and design.

The exhibition designers Tim Hatley & Drinkall Dean briefed David Atkinson Lighting Design that the lighting was to create a sensitive yet dynamic theatrical approach to the exhibition.

The installation is set out in three main galleries. The first looks at the origins of the Ballets Russes in the context of Tsarist Russia up to the start of World War I. The display explores the 1913 production of The Rite of Spring, which at its first performance provoked a riot in the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Several costumes designed by Nicholas Roerich for the opening night are on show.

The second gallery takes visitors behind the scenes of Ballets Russes productions, with a close examination of set creation, costumes and make-up design, choreography and the selection of the music.

The third gallery examines Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes in the 1920s, presenting the work of artists, authors and musicians with whom he was associated, including James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Leon Bakst, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse and many others.
On entering the first gallery a sense of drama is created with a large angled introduction wall being up lit in red by recessed fluorescents. This strong hue of colour is reflected into the entrance corridor drawing visitors in.

Sections entitled ‘Dance Before Diaghilev’ & ‘European Dance’ display paintings, prints and artefacts, which are all externally illuminated from high level track lighting fixtures. DALD chose to use a limited palette for the exhibit lighting, which included AR111 based track fixtures fitted with a combination of spreader and diffuser lenses with internal dimming and energy saving lamps.

To evoke the idea of costumes in motion, the ‘First Season’ section features a motorised circular plinth with a revolving display of costumes backed by large mirrors. To enhance the effect of animation DALD installed a counter rotating projected spiral that throws hints of light across the costumes. Carefully controlled washes of blue light from Spotlight Mini Fresnel (150w CDM-T) are shone across the plinth to add depth and dimmed period light fixtures are positioned on the plinth for theatrical effect.

The next space, ‘Poiret & Nijinsky’, is framed by painted gauze panels onto which dappled light is projected to create a sense of smoke drifting across the set. Once inside the Nijinsky theatre space, rich amber washes of light again from Spotlight Mini Fresnel (150w CDM-T) are applied to emulate a gold quality.

The ‘Rite of Spring’ is a bold,space painted in a fluorescent green. Costumed mannequins positioned at different heights on a graded stage are top lit from acute angles, to accentuate their beauty and form. Animation to the space comes from a projected ‘Fleecy Cloud’.

The North Court opens with a stylised ‘prop store’ incorporating typical back stage elements. Here low level fluorescents fitted with steel blue filters uplight the rear wall and five period prop lights with dimmed internal light sources are set within the display. Accent lighting picks out the exhibits from track fixtures.
The ‘prop store’ is a deliberately dark space to evoke the back stage feel and create dramatic contrast to the next gallery.

Emerging out of the ‘prop store’ visitors come across the magnificent Firebird backcloth designed by Natalia Goncharova for the wedding scene in the 1913 production of The Firebird. The cloth is the largest single object in the V&A's collection, measuring 10 x 16 metres. DALD illuminated it (to strict conservation levels) from asymmetric flood fixtures and wash lights positioned one meter out from the top of the cloth. The lighting to the Backcloth was sequenced to fade up & down in conjunction with large scale digital video projections of dancers within the space.

On the reverse side of the Firebird Cloth is Le Train Bleu front cloth, designed by Pablo Picasso in 1922 and painted by scene painter, Alexandre Shervashidze. Apparently, Picasso was so pleased with the results that he signed the cloth, dedicating it to Diaghilev. The cloth has been called 'the largest Picasso in the world.' The same lighting technique as used on the Firebird cloth was applied. Displayed on the adjacent wall are Picasso costume illustrations. These are part illuminated by three suspended period acting lights. Two recreations of the cubist ‘Mangers’ costumes are lit in intense colour to highlight their enormous scale.

The last Gallery contains light sensitive materials such as works on paper, which were illuminated by fibre optics or carefully controlled incandescent light sources. A number of different lighting techniques were used including colour, shuttering and intensity.

The final objects on display are garments by Yves Saint Laurent inspired by the Ballets Russes, which are tightly lit from acute angles. Strong colours and carefully controlled lighting give perspective depth to the space.

Rebecca Lim, V&A’s Head of South Kensington Exhibitions, said: “The lighting design played a critical part in creating drama in the exhibition and highlighting the incredible objects on display.”

The Spotlight Mini range provides all the performance normally associated with theatrical fixtures in a modified, compact design for use in architectural applications. Available in a choice of standard colours or custom finishes, the Fresnel, PC and profile models feature excellent optics and light output. With a choice of 230v, low voltage and HID lamps, the fixtures are ideal for accent lighting of museum exhibitions, window displays, shops and hotels.

The rights and ownership of all trademarks are recognised.The information contained herein is correct at the time of printing, however as we are constantly refining our product range we reserve the right to change the specification without notice. E&OE.