Bringers of Light – Part One

By Donald Hutera

Donald Hutera illuminates some of the motives, methods and mysteries
surrounding light and dance…

Setting aside the relationship between music and motion, lighting seems the most obvious element of a live dance performance. Without it, how would we ever see what’s going on? Yet if that were all lighting was about, there’d be no need for anything more than glaring worklights to illuminate a stage.

In some cases lighting supports a work without calling attention to itself. Others prefer to treat it as a major creative element. Conjuring atmosphere out of the air, light can provide just the right  environment in which a performance exists by defining space, sculpting bodies and painting moods.

It may coincide with or contradict physical rhythms, and emphasise or downplay an onstage psychological relationship.

Finnish designer Mikki Kunttu believes it can create three-dimensional illusions, by suggesting intimate proximity or unfathomable distance.

British dance artist Carol Brown sees it as a way to permeate the ‘seen’ with the ‘felt’, and to ‘expose and conceal.’

Crucially, in London-based designer Lucy Carter’s view, ‘Light is emotive and it directs the audience’s view.’

In the collaborations between dancer Russell Maliphant and designer Michael Hulls, it can even determine choreographic structure.

However it’s used, there’s no question that good lighting design influences the ways in which dance is made — and perceived — in the UK and abroad.

Cream of the Crop

Contemporary dance has its share of certified lighting geniuses. Among those at the pinnacle of the professsion is Jennifer Tipton, who began lighting Paul Taylor’s dances in the first decade of his long choreographic career. Tipton later forged a strong artistic relationship with Twyla Tharp, as well as working with Jerome Robbins, Mikhail Baryshnikov and many others.

Currently in Britain there’s a younger generation of designers, including Carter, Hulls, Guy Hoare and Michael ‘Mickie’ Mannion, all of whom have come to the fore during the past decade. Like Mikki Kunttu, they usually work on a smaller scale within the independent dance sector.

None of this quintet offers push-button theories or formulas for what they do. Rather, it’s their individual sensitivities and sensibilities that allow them to collectively raise the craft of lighting to an art form.