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Last Updated: Sunday, 8 February, 2004, 09:08 GMT
Computers power Cirque spectacle
BBC ClickOnline's Ian Hardy goes behind the scenes at the Cirque Du Soleil show, O, in Las Vegas to see how computers help create the performance.

Cirque Du Soleil performance
Cirque Du Soleil wows crowds across the world
In Las Vegas audiences flock to see the show O at the Bellagio Hotel.

Many visitors consider it a spectacle that is unrivalled anywhere on the Strip, but few realise just how much technology is packed into the production.

For 90 minutes, acrobats, synchronized swimmers and high divers jump, fall and sink into a deep pool of water.

The front stage area is merely a tiny fraction of the entire building, which houses a huge amount of well hidden, hi-tech machinery.

"Just to operate the show's equipment itself requires probably 28 different computers," said Tony Ricotta, Cirque Du Soleil's operations manager.

"This show was designed on computer, laid out prior to construction on computer. This is, from top to bottom, a computer-generated show."

Digital sound

After six years in production, the routinely sold out show runs like a finely-tuned engine, yet thrives on the unexpected.

The sophisticated technology can follow along with a perfect routine, but at a moment's notice can be re-programmed to allow any act to repeat a death-defying leap should it go wrong.

Tony Ricotta
The performers don't have to be very computer literate. They get to be artists, we really don't want to take that away from them
Tony Ricotta, Cirque Du Soleil
The lights and music can all be altered in a split second.

"The entire sound console is digital now," explained Mr Ricotta. "We have 11 live musicians, we record them and we can then sample their entire performance, and save that digitally.

"If we need to, if an artist gets sick for instance, we can reproduce their performance."

The O Theatre was built at the same time as the Bellagio Hotel, but designers quickly realised that unlike the rest of the hotel, it had a very specific problem, because of the vast volume of water on stage.

Without a newly developed computerised climate control system, fog would have enveloped the audience.

"We were able to develop, along with the theatre designers, a very sophisticated system to pull moisture out of the air and redeposit it back into the pool, all computer-controlled," said Mr Ricotta.

"Dampers are opened and closed, heat sensors are placed throughout the audience to keep them at a comfortable 72 degrees, yet keep the backstage area at 80 degrees.

"It's designed to let the moisture and humidity be reclaimed and brought back into the pool."

Underwater communication

The Cirque Du Soleil cast consists of 82 artists, dozens of stage hands, and around 20 divers with extra respirators in and around the pool at any given moment.

Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas
The Bellagio plays host to the Cirque Du Soleil show
The people under the water have to be able to hear the entire show as clearly as the people above the water, but a perfect solution to this problem is yet to be discovered.

"Our audio department was working with Nasa and the Navy to figure out how to broadcast low frequencies through our pool," said Mr Ricotta.

"Part of the problem that we have here is that although we can communicate it has to be really driven. The ideal way would be to use very low frequencies the way that whales do, and we're trying to work that out."

O is one of the most tech-heavy productions on the Las Vegas Strip, but the producers were determined from the outset to ensure that technology did not interfere with artistry.

For all their power, the computers and computerized systems are all but invisible to the audience.

"The performers don't have to be very computer literate. They get to be artists, we really don't want to take that away from them," said Mr Ricotta.

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