What would the last dance on earth look like? That was the question asked by Samoan-born, New Zealand-based artist Lemi Ponifasio, as he watched birds fly, with shimmering strands of old videotape in their beaks. This image led to the creation of Birds With Skymirrors, a 90-minute touring dance piece that comes to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, November 19-22 as part of the 2014 Next Wave Festival.
Described as “a passionate cry for—and from—a beautiful wilderness," by The Guardian, Birds With Skymirrors features bare torsos moving quietly under a dim light, and fingers fluttering on a stage covered in as Ponifasio’s company MAU performs a spellbinding appeal for human understanding, in which sacral gesture, light, and sound smolder together.
“The scenography of the work is a leaning post, black plastic screens, a black reflective floor, and black backdrop, explains lighting designer Helen Todd. “All scenographic fabric, although black, is light responsive as we aim to work with space rather than objects. The light has to interact with the materials so that the objects become shadow-makers or negative spaces. This is usually achieved by using backlight and reflective surfaces.”
Ponifasio describes Birds With Skymirrors as a "karanga, a genealogical prayer, a ceremony, a poetic space." To illuminate such a universe, Todd’s light serves “to float or silhouette everything onstage, keeping performers and stage elements ungrounded, supporting the ceremonial or super-normal energy of the performers,” she explains.
The rig consists primarily of Philips Selecon Pacific Zoomspots with 575 MSR lamp and Philips Selecon Dowsers. Beam angles: 12/28° and 45/7°. “I also use one Philips Selecon Pacific Zoomspot with CDM lamp. Also custom-made gear: one Frodium (a Fresnel with a sodium lamp) and 14m of LED flex,” notes Todd. “The architecture of the rig is two elements: backlight and front uplight (reflected).” There is a total of 25 fixtures plus the LED flex.
The company’s touring head of lighting, Kristof Steven, does the programming, with the company asking each venue on the tour to provide an MA Lighting grandMA console (series 1 or 2 full-size, light). The company also recently purchased an MA Command Wing on PC, to tour with the work.
“We tour our Philips Selecon fittings and custom-made gear,” Todd adds, noting that, “the Philips Selecon dowser has an accurate fade up and fade down without any evidence of shutters in the image or jump into or out of '0.' We ask each venue to supply four Mac700 Wash, three HMI Robert Juliat and five tungsten profiles (four wide angle and one narrow).”
In spite of its New Zealand origins, Birds With Skymirrors is not attempting to evoke the South Pacific. “I aim for the light to enable shadow and negative space to disallow seeing what we normally see, and to support the non-representative or imagined, an altered concentration or contemplation,” says Todd. “This is a space where we hope to consider things in common, not specific to one place.”