Looking at some Light

“Every teacher will tell you that you cannot dance classical technique with perfection, there is no such thing, there is no way. So you have to adapt the technique to your abilities or to your deficiencies. Learn to cheat!
Jiri Kylian

Looking at some Light

Have you ever found yourself in the parking lot at 6am and the sun is just rising? What seemed a flat boring plane becomes full of all its tiny details. The nail or bottle cap is really seen. The smallest thing casts a long shadow. The sunlight is skimming along the surface and all is in sharp relief.

Now, lets look at a video of a marvelous dance piece. It is a pas de duex from a larger piece called Petit Morte. The choreography is by Jiri Kylian and the company is the Nederlands Dance Company. These guys are really good. I would pay to sit in a rehearsal.

As far as I’m concerned, ignore my writing and enjoy the video. Good stuff!

The lighting in this piece is very specific. What dance designers are trying to do is to re-create that low angle light that we saw in the parking lot at 6am. The source is from light from the side sitting really close to the floor. The intention is to bring out all the detail in the dancer’s bodies. This is to emphasize the muscles and also the shapes that were choreographed.

We would call this “pure Modern Dance” in the choreography and the lighting. Post-Modern is defined by, among other things, satire and improvisation. Here, we see none of that; every detail is specific. Also, it is all about the choreography itself: a black background with no hint of place or time, no other statement except for the pas de deux.

The lights are focused to skim across the floor and then up and to the sides as wide as possible. They are spaced every six feet, probably. So, the downstage-most light can fill in the front of the dancers. Notice that there is often a line right down the middle of their bodies; that is a sure sign of sidelight.

I appreciate that the designer made no changes but let the light sit there and allow the dancers to move through it. All too often designers feel like that they “have to do their job” and make changes so that they can look like they are working!

It feels like the light from the right (stage left) is stronger. Modern Art doesn’t really like symmetry! I used to joke that the sun always rises stage left. The choice is usually based on the choreography, if there is more facing or energy in one direction; often on the diagonal.

The floor is defined by top light, softly shining down. You can see their shadow on the floor and guess how steep the light is up and behind them. This should help sculpt the shoulders and the back of the head while also helping the dancer feel the floor and use gravity. Without it, it would feel like a void with no sense of space.

There is also top light at the back (up stage) with no sidelight. This gives depth to the room but also offers a terrific transition at 3’26” in the video.

This dance is about many things. You can look up the title of the piece. It is about couples but also about shapes, hands, feet and bodies in space. The low angle side light makes all of this dance piece “work”.


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