Cirque du Soleil’s KA Theater at MGM Las Vegas: Part I

During CES Las Vegas  Technology Report joined a small group of fellow CES bloggers for a backstage tour of Cirque du Soleil’s KA theater at the MGM Grand.

Cirque’s media and technical staff are as extraordinary as their performers and we were joined by KA’s Technical Director Erik Walstad, Cirque’s  Social Media Manager Jessica Berlin, and Cirque Publicist Jeff Lovari.

This remarkable show – one of seven permanent Cirque productions in Las Vegas – is the most technically advanced production in the Western Hemisphere and perhaps the world (I could find no other shows that compare).

KA has several extraordinary and unique technologies, but the most imposing and amazing were the massive moving stages that lift, move, tilt, and spin during the performance, providing everything from an empty abyss when the stages are lowered to a sandy beach (using thousands of pounds of tiny pieces of cork as the sand!) to a massive sheer cliff when one is rotated 90 degrees and flipped into a vertical position, with several performers perched precariously on the edge of the deck.

As we toured the massive “basement” of the KA theater, many stories below the seating area, Walstad explained that the production required a massive retrofit of the existing building, with special support structures required to anchor the gigantic gantry crane that moves the huge deck with extraordinary precision and agility using hydraulics that use vegetable oil as an environmentally friendly alternative to more toxic oils.

Two decks appear and disappear during the performance:

The Sand Cliff Deck weighs in at about *40 tons* and measures 25×50 feet with a six-foot depth.   It is supported and controlled by an inverted gantry crane attached to four 75-foot long hydraulic cylinders running along massive support columns.   Together the crane and deck weigh in at about *175 tons*!    The crane is powered using five pumps and about 3500 gallons of vegetable oil.

The Tatami Deck  measures 30×30 feet and weighs over 37 tons, and can  slide forward almost 50 feet at full travel, like a giant drawer.    Five stage lifts move props and artists during the show, each raised or lowered by four to seven spiral lifts.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to watch any of the Cirque performances you know how *dangerous* many of the acts appear, and I was particularly interested in how Erik and his huge crew of technicians kept the Cirque folks safe during the amazing death defying acts they perform at hundreds of shows each year.      More about that in the next installment.
Note: Aria Resort, Vdara Hotel, and Crystals are sponsors of Technology Report’s 2010 CES Coverage.

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