By Donald Hutera
Lucy Carter has worked regularly with a handful of top British dance-makers. Whatthey want from her lighting varies greatly.
‘I like barely perceptible changes that happen over time,’ says Charles Linehan. Carter has lit a dozen of his pieces, as well as a string of dances by Shobana Jeyasingh. The gilded ‘snapshots’ of the chain of bodies in Jeyasingh’s Surface Tension, or the icy blue wing space in Phantasmaton, are prime examples of Carter’s collaborative touch.
Jeyasingh has, she herself says, ‘slowly and painfully’ taught herself ‘to work towards an ecology of lighting, so that it and the music and the dance don’t all peak at the same time. Each has to find its autonomy. It’s a case of, ‘Let’s see how this develops. Is there something coherent we can all say together?’
She feels lucky in her relationship with Carter because ‘Lucy’s not rigid. She understands why things change dramatically in live theatre. You can’t control it. It’s like holding the reins of a lot of horses. All these forces are pulling the piece along. You can’t ever say this one is going to lead.’
‘A knowledge of dance has contributed to my success,’ Carter admits. ‘I understand the choreographic process.’ Majoring in drama at London’s Roehampton Institute, she lit her own dance pieces well enough to prompt others to start asking her to do likewise for them. ‘It led me to what I was best at,’ she says, smiling.
Having received formal lighting training at Central School of Speech and Drama, Carter landed her first job at The Place Theatre. ‘I’ve never had to network because of all the contacts I made there,’ she says of this key London – and international – venue. She always tried to treat the vast number of dance companies she encountered personably. ‘Somebody being nice to you is so encouraging to younger companies. Even now a big part of my job is getting on with people and putting them at ease.’
Aside from fruitful assocations with Linehan and Jeyasingh, Wayne McGregor has been Carter’s main collaborator. She’s lit more than twenty of his dances. ‘We work quite graphically,’ she says, ‘because his ideas are technology-led.’
How ironic, then, is Carter’s admission that she doesn’t keep abreast of all the latest technology. ‘I don’t see lighting as a technical thing,’ she explains. ‘I ignore that side until I have my ideas and concepts.’ Yet Carter claims to never go in with preconceived ideas because she’s there to serve the choreographer. ‘If they’ve got a lighting idea or vision, they should tell me.’
Still, as Carter points out, ‘Talking about light is pretty unsatisfactory. Until you actually see it, you don’t know what it’s going to be.’