AV en pointe at the Central School of Ballet

The Central School of Ballet needed AV that would run itself in its new teaching site in central London.

Founded in 1982 by Ann Stannard and Christopher Gable CBE, the Central School of Ballet (CSB) in London offers vocational degree courses in dance at undergraduate and postgraduate level. It provides world-leading, professional dance training leading to careers in renowned international dance companies and musical theatre productions, including Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures, Phantom of the Opera and Nederlands Dans Theater. Earlier this year, when the Central School of Ballet moved to its new home, the Countess of Wessex Studios in the South Bank arts community of London’s Southwark neighbourhood, the school also undertook a major new AV installation. In charge of designing and installing the AV at the CSB was integrator Adlib. The integrator was recommended to the client by a mutual acquaintance at a major concert promotor says Tim Robinson, who led the project for Adlib.

“The project began 10 years ago, but as it was essentially a bare shell, it needed a Capital Campaign to provide sufficient funding. I joined the design team in 2016 and provided design consultancy, with numerous revised quotations delivered throughout the project timeline, as changes were made to budget and even architecture. UK Government restrictions associated with the Covid-19 pandemic further delayed the programme, but we finally started the installation of the systems in early 2021 and the project was completed in June when restrictions were lifted and in-person dance training was allowed to commence on site.” The site was actually built in 2011 as a twin block of apartments. As part of the planning permission
the local authority insisted thatseveral levels of the building were to be reserved for (at the time) an unspecific artistic application. The CSB became the lucky recipient of the basement levels and the first two floors, so even though the building wasn’t new, it was still essentially a new build project (“a concrete shell” says Robinson) for Adlib to work on.

The client brief went through a few initial variations says Robinson and changed over time too. “The original brief was the same in terms of the learning and teaching requirements, but it was more ambitious than it ended up needing to be. The big thing which quickly got removed was lecture capture, as it wasn’t holding lectures per se but dance classes.” Adlib produced two quotations for the client early on, “Neither of which particularly closely resembles what’s in there now,” admits Robinson. “One quotation was for the functionality they asked for, and it was for many hundreds of thousands of pounds. Another was for the best solution we could offer within the stated budget.

The subsequent years were spent trying to trying to get as much of the first quotation into a budget as close to the second quotation as we possibly could,” says Robinson.  To find out how the audio could fit the client’s needs, Robinson had to establish the level of production and, bluntly, the volume required. Typical in-house ballet productions would use just an acoustic piano, but the CSB also wanted to look at newer forms of dance such as street-dance, which place more
onerous requirements on a loudspeaker system, especially in the low frequency domain. Because of the central London location of the CSB in Southwark, a key design criterion was that the AV should reflect the possibility that the site could serve not only as a ballet school but also a conference venue too. “It’s got a big 300-seat auditorium, and a number of other rooms of various sizes, ideal for break-out sessions or events in their own right.” The CSB agreed, and the flexible AV reflects what is now a dual purpose site. “It is entirely true to say that the CSB themselves probably don’t need three [L-Acoustics] A15s a side and six KS21s in its performance space, but it is entirely appropriate for some of the other stated requirements that the room has for performance and private hire.”

The project spans a two-level basement and two other floors, all fitted with AV technology, spread across seven studios, a mezzanine and reception area. Studio 1 Theatre is the largest space and features four L-Acoustics A15i Focus loudspeakers and two A15i Wide loudspeakers. “Having two A15i and one A15i per side perfectly matches the audience geometry, and a 1:1 ratio of KS21i provides low frequency extension with a ‘reinforced’ contour,” explains Robinson. Four L-Acoustics X8’s units are used for monitoring in the space. By using the L-Acoustics Ai Fixbracket the Adlib team was able to install the central cluster of four KS21i units up against the ceiling and out of the way. “We did something a little bit clever with the subs,” adds
Robinson. “A large concrete beam spanned the room, approximately where we wanted to site the PA. This meant we could install them facing the beam, achieving additional acoustic gain.”

The new L-Acoustics Ai-Series loudspeakers were not in the original plan, and the CSB enjoyed fortuitous timing to have them installed in the final project. As construction costs increased and pandemic-related pressures squeezed the budget, the launch of the Ai-Series at the exact time of installation meant that a meaningful cost saving could be delivered, without compromising on the acoustic performance specification of the original A-Series design. AV in Studio 1, The Gable Theatre, is controlled via a QSC TSC-80W-G2 8-in touchscreen, an Atterotech unD6IO-BT audio interface is there to connect any additional playback devices, and in the room you’ll also find an Allen & Heath Avantis 64-channel mixing console and Avolites Tiger Touch II lighting console (which can be used for live events in the space if needed). Two Sennheiser G4 wireless mics complete the audio package in Studio 1. Video requirements are taken care of with a 16,000 lumens Panasonic projector, which projects onto a 4.8m wide 16:9 motorised projection screen. The projector can be turned on and off, and the screen is brought up and down, all from the QSC touchscreen. Other studios at the CSB are served by either stereo pairs of L-Acoustics X12s or X8s, depending on their size. Robinson explains the AV design of the other rooms, “It's AES67 into Q-Sys with boxes (unD6IO-BT audio interface) at the user end with Atterotech C1 source/volume controllers, that fly around the building through Q-Sys, and bounce back out also on AES67 into Audinate Dante AVIO AES3 adapters or, in the case of Studio 1, a Focusrite D16R. In the case of a Bluetooth source, which is the most common thing in the studios, the signal remains in the digital domain until the output section of the amplifier.”

In the Study you will find a CTouch Riva 75-in multi-touch screen to aid teaching. On the lower basement floor there are three studios that have removable partition walls. Studio 3 is divided into studio 3, 3B, and 3C. To accommodate this Adlib didn’t use the Atterotech C1 controllers as in other rooms explains Robinson. “They've got the same input boxes but they've got QSC touch screens rather than C1s, because it makes it slightly easier to visualise the configuration of the walls.” Clever programming by Adlib means that when the divisible walls are removed, Q-Sys combines the room automatically. Once you tell it what mode the room is in it will mix appropriately.”

The inclusion of networked audio means that the CSB has the ability to share audio from Studio 1 to the reception area. The reception also features a Panasonic TH-86CQ1W 86-in 4K display to engage visitors and convey information about the CSB to students and teachers.

Lighting at the CSB evolved through the process of value engineering admits Robinson. “The original spec’ in 2016 called for nearly 100 channels of dimming and an extensive stock of incandescent fixtures. Technology and acceptance then moved on, so it was going to become all LED, but it was still very theatrical-style static light. The client had expressed a desire for trusses on motors that could come up and down. As the design evolved and budgets were tightened, that investment in motorisation was going to cost them an unreasonable percentage of the budget. They’d potentially have ended up with some lovely trusses and no fixtures to hang on them. They laboured under the same delusion that lots of people do: if one’s trusses are on motors then one never needs to work at height. It may save hauling the fixture up on a rope, but one still needs to get up there to focus it. What we did instead was supplied a totally moving head rig, but on fixed, internally-wired lighting bars. Work at height is therefore required only for occasional service and periodic rigging inspections, which are carried out by professionals, with suitable access equipment.”

Special consideration had to be given to the fact that there is presently no dedicated AV technician on site to oversee production equipment, so it has to be as easy as possible to use, and that was the approach Adlib took. “Unless the venue or the client is a professional production company that deals with technical equipment regularly, my design philosophy is to make the user facing controls as simple as possible. We give them as much control as they need, but I'll try to de-clutter anything they don’t need,” says Robinson. Is he not worried it will be broken or tampered with in the absence of trained AV/IT staff? “Day-to-day control is limited to the C1s and the touch screens, which have source, volume and, in the case of Studio 1, some controls relating to the projector and monitor routing. The worst someone could do by accident is to push a button and have to push it again. For more complex productions, there are the sound and lighting consoles, however these are not required to simply teach a class.”

It is testimony to the AV kit that Adlib specified and installed that it still hasn’t been asked to provide any training to anyone at the CSB. “The client has an ‘I.O.U.’ for training,” says Robinson. “Of course, we always include this with any installation of any size, but the school has asked to defer technical training until they appoint a member of technical staff. The everyday systems are so simple that training wasn't required. The reason I know that is because before we'd handed them all over, I could hear music coming from different rooms. I’d go in and find they were using ‘my’ system that I hadn't even handed over yet, which was actually quite gratifying.”


Allen & Heath Avantis mixing console
Atterotech unD6IO-BT Dante/AES audio interface
Dante AVIO USB adapter
L-Acoustics A15i Focus loudspeakers, KS21i subwoofers, LA4X CE amplifiers, X12 2-way loudspeakers, LA2Xi amplifiers
Powersoft Mezzo 604AD DSP amplifier
Sennheiser G4 100-series mics

Avolites Tiger Touch II lighting console
Chauvet Rogue R3 Spot LED profile, R2X Wash moving head LED wash
ETC Source Four Fresnel, Source Four Profile

Atterotech unD6IO-BT input point, C1 source/volume controller
CTouch Riva 75-in multi-touch screen
Panasonic PT-MZ16K 16,000 lumens laser projector
QSC TSC-55W-G2 touchscreen, QSC TSC-80W-G2 touchscreen

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