The ever-popular Fall For Dance Festival now celebrating its 11th season, opened for the second year running with two nights at the open-air Delacorte Theatre in New York City’s Central Park on September 12. Featuring a varied group of companies—Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Lil Buck, and New York City Ballet- the program was exuberant and once again proved the power of dance on a perfect fall evening in the park.
Lighting designer Clifton Taylor serves as festival lighting director, working with the LDs for the various companies (20 more companies will perform at the festival’s indoor performances at New York City Center on October 8-19). Live Design chats with Taylor about the lighting for the Delacorte performances.
Live Design: For the first three pieces on the program, Hubbard Street’s Gwana, New York City Ballet’s Herman Schmerman Pas de Deux, and, Bill T’s D-Man In The Waters (Part I), did you collaborate directly with the lighting designers or did they just supply their plots?
Clifton Taylor: In the park, everything is always a bit different from the original designs. We try to be as faithful to the intent of the designs as possible but it always involves creativity and imagination from the choreographers, the company directors, the designers, lighting directors, and our staff at the festival to realize the works with integrity.
For instance, we don’t have any overhead positions or side towers, and because we’re outside, we have a grey floor to allow for afternoon rehearsals (a black floor gets too hot to work on in the midday sun, even in September).
LD: In each case, how did you adapt the lighting for the outdoor setting at the Delacorte?
CT: Nacho Duato’s Gnawa opened the program. It is usually performed on a black floor and is a very dimly lit, candlelight-looking piece with gorgeous lighting by Nicholas Fischtel. The piece was commissioned and performed by the Hubbard Street Dance Company of Chicago. The lighting director, Jason Brown, and I worked together to provide all of Nicholas’ original systems but they were quite different in this production. For instance, we don’t have straight backlight or the possibility of down lights, both of which are very important to the piece. The backlight was shifted to diagonal back towers, which we could rig at the upstage corners of the stage and we created the feeling of isolated down lights by focusing high side specials to the areas needed. Having recreated the original designs myself at the Juilliard School, I can say this was very different, but Jason and everyone did a great job of finding the right balance to convey the feeling of the work.
Mark Stanley, the great lighting designer from New York City Ballet, came in himself to light William Forsythe’s Herman Schmerman. I think this was less of a change from the original, as we could provide the same color floor as the ballet and also low sidelights. Also, because he was the original designer, he could make the adjustments, reacting to the space and lighting possibilities in real time.
Bill T. Jones’ D-Man In The Waters was after intermission. Stacey Boggs, the company’s new lighting director, came in to set Robert Wierzel’s original lighting, which consists mostly of a high side template system, low booms in greens and blues. The company had a lot of anxiety about the color of the floor and the absence of a cyclorama before they came in, and Stacey stayed up most of the night with us to observe the focus, but in the end, I think we all did a great job in reproducing the work. We were able to light the trees behind the stage for this piece and it tied in perfectly with the leafy gobos on the floor, a natural and beautiful nighttime cyclorama!
The last work on the evening, Bend In The Road: New Orleans, was lit for this event by Tricia Toliver. As it wasn’t a translation from another space, there was no worry about what we had or didn’t have in relation to a ‘traditional’ dance setup.
LD: How is the Delacorte as a dance space generally speaking? What do you like about it? Any limitations that meant things you wanted to do you couldn’t?
CT: I love the Delacorte for this event. It was our second year presenting dance in the park and it’s such a beautiful and interesting space. The audience wraps around the stage in a large 150-degree circle. Everyone feels close to the action and it’s wonderful to be outside under the trees and the stars on a moonlit night. Because of the wrap around, it wouldn’t be appropriate to have wings like in an end-stage configuration, so we don’t have sidelight lighting towers. There is a trough around the ring though that I use for lighting, essentially providing four systems of ‘shin busters.’ This works well because no seats are obstructed and with the grey floor, I want to cut low sidelight off of the floor, so a very low light is the best choice anyway. One big challenge with working at the Delacorte is an overhead speaker array. Both the cables for the array and the speakers themselves are directly inline with the shots from the front-of-house towers so you have to be very flexible and prepared at focus to be able to switch lights around when the speaker is in the shot. I think for next time, we’re going to develop a 3D computer model of the speaker locations so that some of this 3am scramble can be avoided!
LD: How did you design the plot for the Delacorte this year and what's on the gear list?
CT: The Delacorte is in use all summer and it takes them nearly a month to put in the gear for the season. The permanent lighting towers are really far away from the stage and consist of 5-degree and 10-degree lights, so there is a lot of gear in the air already before the dance festival. We bring in all of the low sidelight and some automated gear (Clay Paky 1200 profile spot units), which this year we used for the diagonal backlights. In addition, we had Wybron Forerunner scroller systems which were like a high side/pipe end system from the two towers which line up with the center of the dance stage.
LD: How long was your tech process? Who was your programmer/master electrician/console?
CT: The Public Theater rented an ETC Ion with the summer’s full rig and that was perfect for us. Zach Murphy is the Public Theater’s lighting supervisor, Kate Dewall was the master electrician, and the Ion programmer was Christine Causey. Kate Ashton was my fantastic associate for the festival.
LD: Damian Woetzel's Bend In The Road: New Orleans was a world premiere, starring Lil Buck who injured himself and couldn’t dance. What was the change to the choreography? When did that happen? How long did you have to "fix" the lighting (and wow it was a wonderful piece anyway)?
CT: Lil Buck injured himself in the dress rehearsal so Tricia and everyone really had to scramble as his choreography was split up to different company members and the piece was re-arranged a bit. Tricia did a great job at rolling with the changes and doing notes in daylight.