The Beauty In Lighting Design For Dance
One of my favorite types of performance to light is dance.Dance is physical poetry, there is beauty to each work, each choreographer creating a language from bodies in motion to convey their message. Two audience members can sit next to each other and have wildly different reactions to each piece, having read a meaning into the choreography personal to their own understanding of dance and the world around them.
Sometimes it’s just the beautiful way a dancer can transform their body into mind-bending shapes. Dance can often challenge our conceptions of what is possible in the human body. These artists challenge themselves to create the choreographer’s vision in physically demanding ways that have my immense respect.
Lighting design for contemporary dance often has the opportunity to beautifully carve shapes and movement out of the darkness, supporting the physicality of each piece without overwhelming the dance. Finding the emotional thread the choreographer wants to highlight the most is sometimes easier said than done, without the benefit of text the communication about the work is limited to verbal explanations and in itself fraught with personal preconceptions. I find these conversations with the choreographers to be the most rewarding as we find a common language in the work.
I have been lucky enough to work with some marvelous choreographers and dance companies during my years in LA, and even luckier to work with collaborators who are willing to deal with my often erratic and somewhat spontaneous production and travel schedule.
Choreographer Bradley Michaud of Method Contemporary Dance in particular has been an inspiration in my designs over the 10+ years I have been working with him.We have long since created a shorthand that allows us to discuss his work and the development of a lighting design that best emphasizes the physical poetry he creates.I’m fairly sure some of the words we use can’t be found in an English dictionary, and our conversations often involve obscure hand gestures, but we always seem to get to a place where we are both pleased and gratified by the results.
As the lighting designer often leads the design aesthetic for dance, I believe it is important to remember this freedom requires sensitivity to the work, to the physicality rather than just to the music. We are not as lighting designers illustrating a song, and neither are the dancers.Sometimes there is no music beyond the breath and vocalizations on stage, sometimes the choreography is a counterpoint to what you are hearing. Finding a way to tie the choreography to the music to a statement to a beauty all it’s own is our job as lighting designers, and a wonderful and rewarding job it is.
Photos: Paulo Focardi Photography