Asian Music and Dance

Shadow Casters

After spending time with a number of lighting designers and choreographers from India and the UK I began to uncover a rich dialogue of how they collaborate and explore the philosophy, dramaturgy and visual possibilities that can exist between light and choreography. 

The conversations I encountered uncovered the many benefits of bringing a lighting designer into a creative process early. Those that value their input equally embed them into the research and rehearsal studio, are willing to listen to alternative perspectives and are rewarded with a more cohesive visual experience. Their sharply-trained eyes offer choreographers alternative rhythms, angles and possibilities.

Sadhana Dance, Unkindest Cut (Subathra Subramaniam and Aideen Malone)

Unkindest Cut premièred in 2016 at Pavilion Dance South West; set inside two shipping containers, it’s an intimate performance and installation with a solo female dancer that looks at the emotional landscape of young people and mental health. It was developed in association with Consultant Adolescent Psychiatrist Dr Partha Banerjea and the South London and Maudsley Adolescent Mental Health Services.

AM: Suba is interested in lighting more than any choreographer I’ve worked with; we started to work together when she was with Angika nearly fifteen years ago and for the first four works for Sadhana Dance we’ve (Suba, myself, Kathy Hinde and Matthew Olden) worked as a team of equal collaborators. Our starting-point was a conversation about the subject matter and something immediately clicked with the idea of linear lines of light. I’d worked on a previous production and as part of that lighting design I created these 2-metre long LEDs that look like fluorescent tubes.

SS: The tubes of light have so many different connotations. Aideen’s lights were the focus around which everything else pivoted. A lot of my movement material was based on where the lights were, what position they were in and when they were lit; every light has a narrative of its own. My work is conceptually driven and bharatanatyam is my starting-point – Aideen doesn’t need to know the intricacies of the form (although she does), she needs to know the essence of the concept; it’s not lighting the dancers or the form, it’s embodying the concept.

“The nine LED lines of light became characters that could change the mood and emotion of the space very quickly.”

AM: We completed an early twenty-minute sharing where we all improvised rather than having pre-set cues. I don’t normally operate a lighting board (as a designer I rarely tour with my work), but Kathy and Matt’s improvisatory practice influenced me and it created an intensity and liveness that we carried on into the performance. The nine LED lines of light became characters that could change the mood and emotion of the space very quickly. There was an intensity of colour, from apricot to blue to red to green; I’ve worked with Anish Kapoor and he uses rich pigments and certain bold colours because the rods and cones of the eye deal with some colours better than others. 

SS: Aideen had designed for Akram Khan Company (Kaash) and I liked the way she lit the lines of movement; because bharatanatyam is so symmetrical I was drawn to her and the way her light accentuated the physicality.

AM: I’m interested in bharatanatyam because it’s so angular and it has connections with the angularity of the movement of light. The lights for Unkindest Cut are acrylic tubes with LED strips inside, complete with a frosting to make them opaque; they’re also controllable by a lighting desk. We fixed a microphone onto the power supplies of the lights to pick up the pulse and hum of the electricity as it created a low tonal buzz when they’re operated and we mixed that into the score. When it tours again next summer Matt’s going to build a bespoke lighting desk so that all the lighting, sound and projection can be operated from one source.

Aditi Mangaldas Dance Company, Inter_rupted (Aditi Mangaldas and Fabiana Piccioli)

 Inter_rupted is a work made for large-scale theatres. It emerges from the body while exploring fragility, disintegration, resilience, invincibility and renewal. After premièring in Mumbai in March 2016 it came to the UK (via Germany) for Dance Umbrella 2016 and continued with a short English tour with dates in Salford, Leicester and Coventry.

FP: We talk a lot about dramaturgy and I poke my nose in other places because I’m interested in meanings. I come from storytelling because I come from Akram, where every gesture is part of a story and we cut it with a knife to find the meaning. Farooq Chaudhry (dramaturg on Inter_rupted) said to Aditi “be brave and true” because sometimes kathak creates a barrier and mask; he helped her drop the mask and show more of what she fears and who she is. Aditi has a mathematical mind and is really precise: she has notes and draws the stage as a top view with an x here and then moves the x across stage; sometimes we have the same notes. 

AM: There was already an aesthetic associated with the form – kathak has come from the temples and the Mughal courts with blackened surfaces and shadows from firelight. In 2010 Akram invited us to perform at Sadler’s Wells and it was here that he introduced me to Fabiana. We live in different countries and I don’t have my collaborators for a long time; it was one week with Fabiana just before the première but we’re constantly exchanging videos of the choreography and notes on Skype.

 “…I’m allergic to front light as it exposes the space too much.”

FP: I memorise and take cues very quickly because of my own dance training and I am a little more sculptural when it comes to dance; I sculpt the body, not wanting to manipulate it too much as light can sustain and support dance. I like old-style lighting, like par cans (lights with reflector and lens), and I’m allergic to front light as it exposes the space too much. In Aditi’s classical work my lighting rhythm is dictated by changes in the music, whereas in the contemporary work we challenge the usual conventions – it’s a nice contamination of my style of lighting and her rhythm; I follow her and try to be more economical. Less light equals more light. 

“Less light equals more light.”

AM: Light is a language in itself; when talking about disintegration, you see the light as if it’s crumbling and there are crossfades and snaps as well as texture, colour, intensity and patterns. Most of my choreographies are autobiographical. I hold the concept in my head for a long time and then share it with Fabiana; we discuss the concept and let ideas brew separately which breathes dance into it. It’s the same when we look at my classical and contemporary choreography – in classical there’s a purer (I don’t like that word) essence and in contemporary, the essence has been watered with many contemporary inputs, including the light, and that seed can grow in many directions.

Hemabharathy Palani, Twine and Trikonanga 

Twine and Trikonanga were curated by International Dance Festival Birmingham 2016 in partnership with Sampad. Trikonanga is a solo work that bridges three regions of the body – head, navel and toe – and it leaves traces of triangles in space. Twine (a work for three dancers) ties together different ideas of solitude while exploring the elasticity with which people can become extensions of each other. 

HP: Light has to do everything that I don’t say with my body. When you’re presenting your work in another country you might not speak the same language as the house technicians (I used to be terrified of speaking English) and so sound cues become the anchor points for lighting changes. Maybe the technician cannot see the difference between the specific hand gestures of kuchipudi, kalaripayattu and bharatanatyam, so I developed a set of clear instructions to communicate what I needed; I show a video of the full performance with cue 1, place 1, the mountain position, cue 2, place 2, the monkey position, etc. and when I do this movement you have thirty seconds till the next cue. It is one of the perils of having to do everything on your own when you tour internationally.

Seeta Patel, Something Then, Something Now (Seeta Patel and Guy Hoare)

The varnam (an item that uses both non-narrative and expressional dance) that formed the central pillar of Something Then, Something Now was originally created for Seeta Patel’s Wild Card at Sadler’s Wells before her classical recital premièred at the Darbar Festival (the first piece of dance to be presented there), before its UK tour in autumn 2015.

GH: There’s something inherently intriguing about making a solo; I like it to be a dialogue between the performer and the light. When Seeta approached me, the attraction was that I knew nothing about classical Indian dance – I had worked with Mayuri (ATMA Dance) and Shobana (Shobana Jeyasingh Dance) before but I’d never made a classical work with them. Seeta gave me a crash course in the form, she talked me through structure of the varnam and what I latched on to was the binary nature of the jati (pattern of syllables) and the abinhaya (expressive dance). 

“…it was more about trying to find the lines so you didn’t always see my face.”

SP: I bumped into Guy after Shobana’s Strange Blooms and was bowled over by what he did. He was very flamboyant in a long velvet jacket at the bar and yet so open and down-to-earth. There are some well-worn ways that classical bharatanatyam is lit and it’s sometimes a bit gaudy; we challenged some of the traditionalists in the audience by looking at the architecture of the form and in the pure dance sections it was more about trying to find the lines so you didn’t always see my face.

GH: We lit each jati separately with nine rigid evenly-spaced corridors of light – they defined the route I went down. We talked through how the more geometric and sharp edges lent themselves to the rhythmical jati sections, whereas the soft edges and breathing light fitted better with the abinhaya. I feel quite strongly that every lighting design is a bit of artistic development. Working together gave me a confidence to get under the skin of the complexity of the music and when I first listened I would get lost choreographically as I wasn’t used to the rhythms; they’re now locked into my head and I have a more complex rhythmical brain than just 4/4. 

SP: He was sensitive to the needs of the work and to the fact that I didn’t have the capacity to tour extravagantly, but he created something simple and extraordinarily elegant. The sensitivity to the breath, narrative and crescendos were very detailed and there are over 400 cues in Something Then Something Now. Variations on a theme is the best way for how I think lighting should be, giving you flavour but not straying too far from the centre. Working with Guy has shown me that there needs to be an understanding of time and light; the choreography undulates and grows and the light needs to do that as well.



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