The Glow That Illumines – lighting and dance

Lighting for dance has become a field of expertise and artistry in itself. Lise Smith casts an eye over its background and speaks to some of its leading lights.

Photo: J Louis Fernandez.

As any physics student will tell you, a beam of light is invisible until it hits something to illuminate. In a similar way, the people who sit up in the technical booth and control the rhythm and direction of their beams of light onstage have, until recently, tended to be invisible to those who watch their work. We know there’s somebody up there – there’s a name in the programme and a gesture by the performers at the end of a show – but for many years the figure of the lighting designer him or herself rarely received much public attention.

Now that is changing, and the ability of lighting designers to transform and elevate a piece of dance is increasingly acknowledged. In addition to industry plaudits such as the Knights of Illumination awards, lighting designers for dance are receiving recognition for their collaborations with choreographers. In April 2014, designer Michael Hulls received an Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, indicating a growing appreciation for lighting as a vital part of the creative process itself and not a supplementary layer added towards the end. A generation ago there were no technical courses aimed at producing professional lighting designers for the theatre; now there are dozens, including three-year honours courses at Central School of Speech and Drama and RADA.

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