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Béjart Ballet upgrades
with Philips Vari-Lite VLZ Profiles

Photo credits: © Gregory Batardon
The prestigious Béjart Ballet recently upgraded its automated lighting rig with the purchase of 20 Philips Vari-Lite VLZ Profile fixtures, the new LED-generation successor to the industry standard VL3500. In the process, they have said goodbye to noise and reliability issues, made welcome savings on running costs and maintenance and enjoyed the powerful Vari-Lite package of creative features . . .
Lausanne, Switzerland – Béjart Ballet Lausanne has been at the cultural centre of Lausanne for over 30 years. Founded by the late Maurice Béjart (1927-2007), the company is now headed by artistic director Gil Roman. With Lausanne’s Théâtre de Beaulieu as its home base and creative hub, the company spends a large part of each year touring its extensive repertoire around Europe and the world.
Philips Lighting, Vari Lite, Lausanne, Théâtre de Beaulieu, VLZ Profiles, lighting show
Where possible, it tours with its own lighting rig. Among its equipment are ETC Source Fours, used for front light and the wing positions so important for the lighting of dance; Ayrton RGBW LED washlights, Philips Selecon PLcyc units and an overhead rig of automated fixtures.

Béjart Ballet Lausanne has been a long-time user of Philips Vari-Lite luminaires. Until recently its workhorse automated fixture was the VL3500Q, chosen for its framing blade system. “It was a great machine,” says technical director Lucas Borgeaud of the VL3500Q, “but it gave us some problems.” 
Two problems, in fact – noise and heat. “Sometimes the moving light can stay closed with the lamp on for one hour, or more,” says Borgeaud. “And with the old HMI lamp, and the heat, it was a lottery if the light would work, you know? ‘OK, will it be here? Maybe not. Oh cool, it’s here!’”

While the risk of lamp failure is an issue for everyone, the biggest headache for resident lighting designer Dominique Roman was always fan noise. She says, “We work in small theatres, generally, with classical music, with quiet moments. The noise from the [VL3500Q] could make it complicated to organise between the artistic director and I. It was an additional worry and stress.”

With the VLZ’s sealed liquid cooling system, noise in operation is minimal. “Not having this stress is a huge advantage,” says Roman. However, the law of unintended consequences applies, as Lucas points out. “Now it’s totally silent, it’s funny, but we have another problem - we can hear everybody backstage.”
Philips Lighting, Vari Lite, Lausanne, Théâtre de Beaulieu, VLZ Profiles, lighting show
The company had been waiting for a suitable upgrade fixture, says Borgeaud. “We were looking at the LED market for some time. And one day, there was the VLZ. It was the VL3500 with LEDs, exactly what we need. So, we contacted the Swiss distributor for Vari-Lite, IQ Unlimited, and we took 20 VLZ Profiles for the new season. Now it’s six months that we have had them, and we have never had a problem. The service guys are quite on holiday now with the new VLZ. It was the right choice.”

Roman is delighted with the difference made by the new fixtures. “Not having this noise is a huge advantage,” she says. She also notes that the silence brings added flexibility luminaire positioning. While the VL3500Qs would be as far up in the roof as possible, the VLZs can be placed anywhere, even very close to the stage in the wing positions if required. 
Philips Lighting, Vari Lite, Lausanne, Théâtre de Beaulieu, VLZ Profiles, lighting show
Feature-wise, the VLZs offer the same colour capability as the VL3500Q, using the three-filter CMY mechanism plus variable CTO control, applied over the 8000 K colour temperature white light LED source, and meticulously engineered to deliver the colours expected of a Vari-Lite. They are also used to provide specific colour washes where required. “In one of the ballets, Gil Roman’s Syncope, there is a special colour, a kind of red,” says Borgeaud. “It is based on a costume, so it is very specific, and we need to wash this colour on the floor. With RGB washlights it is not possible to produce this, but with the trichroma system of the VLZ, it’s just perfect.”

The internal four-blade framing system is also bringing big benefits. “The fact that we have blades in all the machines means that I gain time,” says Roman.
“I don’t need to plan with my electrician where I need to place the units with blades, as we know we have them everywhere. It is something that is very, very, very positive for me.”

Dominique Roman,

Resident lighting designer at Béjart Ballet Lausanne

The VLZ Profiles are often used to create precisely-framed zones on the stage, or highlighting strips of the dance area to complement the choreography. “For example, in this ballet we have a rope coming diagonally across the stage,” says Borgeaud, “and using the blades of just two VLZs overhead, we can light this twenty metres of rope perfectly.”

The high colour temperature white light output of the VLZ is often used in combination with the warmer tones from ETC Source Fours, providing contrasting shades between side- and top-light. The 8˚-50˚ zoom, meanwhile, combined with the fixture’s two internal frosts allows this nominally ‘profile’ luminaire to be employed as a very effective washlight, giving another layer of creative options to the lighting team. 
Philips Lighting, Vari Lite, Lausanne, Théâtre de Beaulieu, VLZ Profiles, lighting show
At other times the VLZs are used to provide defocused gobo breakup patterns across the dance floor, or for gobo projection onto scenic elements. Says Borgeaud, “We use it like a profile, with the blades; we use it for gobo washes and we can use it also like a standard wash because, with the two frosts inside you can have a really soft light on the floor. It’s like we have a Swiss Army Knife, a multi-functional tool can do everything that we need. You have an idea - can you do this? Yeah, you can do it.”

Commenting on the output of the VLZ in comparison with the VL3500Q, Lucas says, “The last time we played this ballet was with VL3500Q and now we really see the difference. With the VLZ, we have a lot more power, which is really cool. Sometimes we needed more intensity and we didn’t have it. Now we have it.”

All in all, the Béjart Ballet Lausanne team is more than satisfied with their decision to make the move to the VLZ and the latest LED stage lighting technology. Says Roman, “I am delighted that we have invested in these fixtures, as they benefit me technically, visually and aesthetically, and the artistic director also greatly benefits. The quality, the ease of use and particularly the silence of the machine, is something very, very important for us.”  

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