That sounds like getting out of the way.
It can be. When Justin Peck choreographed “Rodeo,” he was taking on this famous Aaron Copland score that has an enormous amount of color in it. I chose to approach it in a minimalist way, with a wide space and warm sunlight. As an artist, you have to decide what needs to come forward. The lighting for “Rodeo” is simple, but it’s essential. It’s probably my best work.
When is a narrower frame appropriate?
In Justin’s “Everywhere We Go,” the first and last movements have a massive amount of dancers, and I made it extremely bright, like an arena. But there’s this pas de deux that’s quiet, just solo piano, and I took that as a hint and used only two follow spots. It allowed us to focus in, with an intimacy almost like a campfire.
You don’t let the space stay dim for long, though, unlike many other lighting designers for dance.
People do come up to me and thank me, saying, “It’s good to see who’s onstage for once.”
What are some other mistakes you see in lighting design?
Sometimes it’s very obvious that the lighting was an afterthought. Or is trying to cover something up. That’s why it’s so important to me to work collaboratively from the beginning.
You’re in on the planning all along, but how much time do you get in the actual theater before a dance has its premiere?
Maybe three hours, six at the most. And usually we open that evening.
You have to work fast.
It’s like a cannon. First, I finally get to show the choreographer my ideas, with some people onstage who aren’t the dancers, or maybe with coat racks. Then there’s a run-through that doesn’t stop for lights. I make choices on the fly, narrowing things down, adjusting for spacing. You have to remain creative.