Bringers of Light – Part Three ‘Breath of Light’ Michael Hulls

By Donald Hutera

Russell Maliphant’s take on Michael Hulls is plain and direct: ‘He’s the best. With Mike the architecture of the space is always changing, opening up or closing down. It’s like breathing.’

Lighting, rather than music, is often the starting point of their joint ventures. In the solo Shift, Hulls’ ingeniously simple yet mysterious lighting casts Maliphant’s shadow onto a triptych of panels behind him. ‘It dictated the type of movement that could be done,’ Maliphant explains. ‘Rather than thinking about the stage and where I want to be on it, it was where I must be because that’s where the effect is. It kind of choreographed itself.’

The process was more complicated with Sheer, for which Hulls, Maliphant, dancer Dana Fouras and composer Sarah Sarhandi received a Time Out Live Award for outstanding collaboration in dance.

‘Sarah’s music is quite melodic and emotional in a way,’ Maliphant says. ‘Mike tried a few things. They were too glittery. If everything goes the same way it doesn’t add to the complexity. He decided to go for something harder and colder, so you’d see the light onstage — it wouldn’t be hidden.’ Maliphant’s artistic flexibility was put to the test. ‘There were ten to twelve lights on the back wall, leaving Dana and me in silhouette. I
liked it. We decided to throw away a lot of the movement we’d already made and go with the light.’

Who is the man who inspires such trust?  ‘I’ve always been a design-based life form,’ Hulls jokes. His father was an architect, and both parents were artists. Like Carter and  Hoare, he participated in youth theatre.

Hulls’ lighting career really kick-started when dance improviser Laurie Booth invited him to improvise with light. ‘It wasn’t scary because I didn’t know any better,’ Hulls recalls. ‘Because I didn’t have any ideas about it, there was a complete freedom.’ He soon became hooked by ‘the ephemeral nature of live performance. Light is the most extreme part of that. It’s so intangible. You can’t hold it. It’s hard to photograph or draw. It’s got the attributes of waves and particles at the same time.’

Asked what makes a good lighting designer, Hulls’ reply is tongue-in-cheek yet true. ‘The eyes of a painter, the hands of a sculptor and the soul of a poet. Technical stuff you can pick up. I’m a creature of intuition. I have no training, only experience. I’ve asked myself, ‘Where do good ideas come from and how do you recognise them?’ The strongest ones happen quite simply and quickly. The more head-scratching that goes on, the further away you get from what’s best.’

And what is Hulls’ ultimate advice about lighting in dance? ‘Use as little as possible, but use it absolutely well.’