By Donald Hutera
As I’ve moved into a more visual sense of performance,’ says Carol Brown, ‘lighting has increasingly become installed within the structural element of a piece.’ On that score she sings the praises of Michael Mannion, whose work with Brown includes Machine for Living and Nerve.
‘Mickie understands the concept of performance as an event which creates its own aesthetic rules,’ Brown elaborates. ‘He also has the ability to create a sensory world through lighting.’
Mannion’s engineering background led him to a surveying job in Australia. There he did theatre work in his spare time. He’d always had a leaning towards dance, even studying Martha Graham’s technique. Later, after being part of the technical team at London’s Laban Centre for five years, he founded a lighting design and production management consultancy company called Eye for Detail. He remains a senior partner, specialising in dance.
Lighting, Mannion says, ‘can ruin or help a dance. It can also take the choreography somewhere it couldn’t go alone. For some shows I think, ‘I’m gonna do everything I can to be noticed.’ On others I’m trying to convince a choreographer, ‘This’ll work.’
Talking to Mannion is like taking a crash course in what light can do. ‘Side lights increase height; with those you’re already projecting dancers into the air. I tend to stay away from front lights because it almost instantly flattens perspective – unless Javier (De Frutos, a frequent collaborator) says, ‘Let’s bring everything right in their faces.’ Two or three back lights pick the dancers out from the background, while two or three cross-washes deepen the stage and light the floor. They also give you shadows around eyes and chin, and massive shadows under the chest and stomach. Supplemented with sides and back lights, the torso completely stands out.’
Lack of sufficient time or money are complaints common to Mannion and his colleagues. ‘If you’re given just hours to rig, focus and plot,’ he says, ‘there’s a limit to the amount of artistic risks you and the choreographer are prepared to take.’ But he doesn’t want to give the wrong impression. ‘I love what I do. I feel privileged.’