A phoenix from the ashes

Photo | Bosch Rexroth AG
Marginal Column

Above: Grand Theater - Six years of painstaking restoration has brought the front of the house back to its full glory.

Photos | Bosch Rexroth AG Magnifier

Five vertically movable lighting catwalks with multi-segment lamp frames illuminate the main stage.

Photos | Bosch Rexroth AG Magnifier

The telescopic side lights can be moved both vertically and horizontally and illuminate the scenery on the side stage.

Photos | Bosch Rexroth AG Magnifier

View of the fly gallery: a total of 190 hoists were installed in the stage house; these lower scenery to the stage floor and raises it out of sight again.

March 2012

 

Since its renovation, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater embodies the ideal symbiosis of tradition and modernism. Outwardly it projects the glory of Imperial Russia; behind the scenes, Rexroth stage technology keeps performances running like clockwork.

 
 

Forklifts trundle across the stage, jackhammers bang away, welding torches spray bright sparks, and construction workers bustle ceaselessly. After minutes of deafening construction noise, the hardhats suddenly form up in a chorus and belt out an aria from Mikhail Glinka’s opera A Life for the Czar. This thundering start of the opening gala of the Moscow Bolshoi on October 28, 2011, also marked the conclusion of the most extensive theater renovation in the history of modern theaters. The city of Moscow poured half a billion euros into this project. The result: sparkling crystal chandeliers, glittering gold leaf, fine woods, and red satin once again evoke the glory of the Russian Imperial era. But behind the scenes, the Bolshoi has left past centuries far behind. Equipped with technology from Rexroth, “the cradle of classical ballet” is technically the most modern theater in the world.

Grand theater

Founded in 1776, during the reign of Catherine the Great, the Bolshoi has always been a theater of superlatives. Behind the imposing façade in the style of Russian classicism, the well-designed interior furnishings from the middle of the last century blessed the theater with acoustics that are still legendary today. Up to 400 performers can appear on the Bolshoi’s stage at once; five rows of gold-plated balconies and the orchestra provided seating for up to 2,000 spectators. Pjotr Tchaikovsky’s world- famous ballet “Swan Lake” premiered here in 1877. And the largest corps de ballet anywhere, comprising over 200 mem- bers and with its ballet legends Vaslav Nijinsky, Rudolf Nureyev and Maya Plissezkaya, made this house world-famous.

Strong foundation

When the last curtain before the renovation came down in 2005, no one could say what the cost would be in the end. Although cracks up to five centimeters wide ran through load-bearing elements of the façade, the real challenges for the renovators lay hidden deep in the earth. Ground water had caused the foundation, built on marshy soil, to subside. The historic building was in acute danger of collapsing. Workers drove more than 2,500 steel supports into the subsoil to enable removal of the rotten wooden piles on which the walls had rested. A new foundation was then poured. This is now directly anchored in the bedrock and, for the first time, provides the Bolshoi with sub-basements as well as a stage pit 20 meters deep, to accommodate all the stage technology.

Custom technology

While the experts and monument conservators insisted that the building remain completely unaltered externally and that the interior be restored in the style of the 19th century, the stage technology of the “new Bolshoi” was to reflect the state of the art. Rexroth received the order for this project in 2004. “We did the project planning for the upper and lower machinery of the Bolshoi and developed and installed it. For the theater’s motion technology alone, 600 electric and hydraulic drives were installed, many of which had to be completely reconceptualized,” recounts Wolf-Guido Patten, Rexroth project head. “As a result,” he firmly believes, “there is currently no stage in the world that can match the Bolshoi in its dimensions and performance.”

Perfect illusion

The main stage, 520 square meters in size, is dominated by seven identical dual-level podiums. Each of these seven stage podiums is 22 meters long, three meters wide and ten meters high, and has a deadweight of around 70 tons. Both podium levels can be used for performing. Hydraulic cylinder drives enable silent, jerk-free upward and downward motions of the segments at speeds of up to 0.7 meters per second and a range of 16 meters. Entire set elements or groups of people can thus rise or sink back below the stage at the press of button. This space extends more than six stories down and accommodates storage of the scenery for the various productions. Four mutually independent podiums and the largest hydraulic system ever deployed in a European theater ensure the smooth transport of sets between rehearsals and performances.

Suspended variety

The theater’s overhead machinery is just as strong a performer. 220 hoists – each with a lifting capacity of around one ton – can lower scenery to the stage like magic at speeds of up to 1.8 meters per second, totally silent and synchronized. A stage is one of the few areas where it is permissible for persons to remain under rapidly moving loads weighing tons, so safety has top priority. This is guaranteed by the proven SYB2000 stage control system from Rexroth. The finely tuned sensor network and the proven, dependable software precisely control all sequences relating to the stage.

Once programmed, the entire sequence of a piece can be run at any time at just the press of a button. The Bolshoi has burned down three times in its over 200-year history and was rebuilt each time. But the theater has never before been renovated so extensively. When audiences attend performances at the Bolshoi in the future, they can enjoy an unprecedented variety of productions in the fairytale ambience of the 19th century.

Rexroth’s invisible, noiseless stage technology ensures an unforgettable artistic experience through perfect illusions. And now further projects are stepping into the limelight: Rexroth is currently the project partner for the Bavarian State Opera in Munich, the Salzburg Festival Hall and the Gothenburg Opera House.