Book Marks: Dance Production: Design and Technology, 2nd Edition

Well into my career as a lighting designer, I realized that I often acted as a de facto production manager in my work with dance companies, helping a choreographer or an artistic director navigate the costs (in time, people, and money) of various ideas and concepts. The worlds of business and dance production often require translation or mediation for dance makers. How does one collaborate with artists and artisans who think so differently than you? How does one navigate union contracts, shop bids, technical schedules, and running crew requirements? How does one use the tools of the various design disciplines to communicate an idea that began in movement? For startup companies and some very established ones, a trusted designer is often the go-to person who can translate and help navigate the complex worlds of production for the choreographic artist. This makes sense, as the act of design is, in part, always involved in translating ideas, dreams, and images between forms, languages, cultures, individual artists, and artisans.

Jeromy Hopgood, an accomplished theatrical designer and educator, has taken on this job to introduce and demystify most aspects of dance production as practiced today in an expanded second edition of his successful textbook. In the second edition of "Dance Production: Design and Technology," he has created a how-to manual for moving dance from conception to performance.

Who is this book for?

• Dance students in an introductory production course.

• Emerging choreographers looking to produce their own work or contemplate the creation of a new company.

• Production and stage manager students studying dance production and how it might differ from other areas of the performing arts.

Each chapter ends with a set of review or reflection questions and a practical work project that builds on the ideas from the chapter. This experiential portion of each chapter is central to using this text as the basis of a college-level course.

In “Part 1: Thinking Ahead,” Hopgood makes the case for collaboration, preparing the artist/choreographer for the range of people they will need to help put on their show. Hopgood introduces various ways dance companies have been structured (repertory, single choreographer, collective) and lists the jobs a dance company typically requires, both within a company staff and a theater, when mounting a production.

Hopgood outlines different business models while emphasizing the role of not-for-profits in the dance world. While he briefly touches on running a dance school, his focus is on outlining material for operating a performing dance company, including setting up a not-for-profit corporation, engaging in fundraising, and hiring collaborators who may belong to the many unions representing artists and technicians involved in theatrical production.

In his chapter on Planning the Production. Hopgood begins with identifying the audience and defining the purpose of a show, which is all for the good. Dance can sometimes be subjective and opaque; reminding would-be dance-makers that the theater is a place of dialog with an audience is a welcome admonition. Like the very good breakdown of a press release, a sample budget template that showed lines for typical anticipated expenses and revenues for a show would make this chapter more effective. Additionally, a scheduling template would be a useful addition to this chapter.

The chapter on Performance Spaces combines various topics, ranging from different theater styles, proscenium, thrust, arena, and black box to tech packets and contract technical riders. A drawing of an idealized dance stage plan showing a four-wing setup with center and quarter marks, a crossover, and a typical cyclorama/scrim/blackout setup would help this chapter.

Further, in the section on scrims, I wish Hopgood had talked about its more typical uses on a dance stage: to provide a flat black background and to facilitate deeper, more saturated, cyclorama lighting colors. I also wish this chapter included a discussion on typical depth for wings, and tips for determining lighting boom placement and backstage sound monitor placement.

Touring and Non-Traditional Performances. Touring is the bread and butter for most successful companies; this topic alone could fill an entire book. Hopgood’s chapter on touring is comprehensive, but there is a hint of an essential piece of information in the wonderful interview with Julie Ballard that I wish had been expanded and made a focus in this chapter: the touring schedule. Most companies outside the majors perform only once or twice in a venue. The schedule is very tight, so many dance theater production and design decisions are based on this schedule. A typical schedule for a company like Hubbard Street would have illuminated this discussion enormously.

Hopgood’s presentation on Dance and Video provides a great overview when contemplating the creation of a dance film or distributing a dance over the Internet. Hopgood covers nomenclature such as streaming and “on-demand” and touches on rights issues. As a designer, though, I wish he had included design elements in his list of copyrighted materials requiring consideration when making a streaming deal!

The mini glossary of film-directing terms is excellent. I imagine many students and emerging artists in the target readership will contemplate creating dance films on their phones, and this introductory filmmaking glossary might act as a catalyst for further exploration and experimentation.

Part II of the book covers the various production areas often engaged in dance work. Hopgood begins with an overview of the Foundations in Design and Production juxtaposed with the elements of dance and choreography. While Hopgood is succinct and clear in this telling, he doesn’t often express a view about what makes dance design different from play or opera design, and I wish he had covered this more throughout the book.

Following this overview, Hopgood devotes a chapter to Production and Stage Management, outlining the duties of a dance company's production and stage manager roles and includes an interview with production stage manager Cheryl Mintz. Examples of different ways of documenting choreography in a “dance script” are not included but would have been a helpful addition here. A short discussion of follow spots and dance stage managers would have also been good.

The rest of the text is dedicated to dives into Sound, Costumes, Hair and Makeup, Scenery, Lighting, and Projection. The interviews in these chapters are excellent windows into professional practice and help elevate the entire text with hard-won personal perspectives. Hopgood includes two special sections discussing people of color in dance in the costume and lighting chapters. Both sections would have benefited by re-centering the point of view toward the long and rich history of successful dance companies led by people of color, Ailey, Philadanco, Complexions, Ballet Hispanico, Evidence, and Dance Theater of Harlem, among many others. I wish the author had included designers of color who work in dance theater to discuss their design approach for dancers of color. Unfortunately, few artists of color are depicted in the text, and no artists of color are interviewed.

In the third section at the end of the book, Hopgood reiterates the need for good communication. Dance and Production people speak very different languages, each with technical jargon that can easily be confused, misused, and, therefore, misunderstood in a collaboration. To address this, Hopgood provides two useful glossaries: the first is for dance terminology, and the second is for Theatre/Stagecraft Terminology.


The book is comprehensive and well-written. A criticism would be that fitting this daunting amount of content into a fifteen-week one-semester university course would be challenging. While astonishingly comprehensive, some critical dance-specific drawings and materials would help some of these chapters. Perhaps a companion webpage for additional documents could be made available. In any case, I believe it is a useful resource that an educator could use as the basis for an introductory course in production for dancers and choreographers.

Published by Routledge, New York, 2024. DOI: 10.4324/9781003291794-3

Clifton Taylor designs for opera, dance, and theater companies worldwide. His designs have been seen on Broadway and with companies ranging from LA Dance Project, Ailey, DTH, Tanowitz, Lubovitch, Armitage, Paul Taylor, as well as opera and ballet companies in London, Paris, Shanghai, St. Petersburg, Rio de Janeiro, Nancy, Florence, and many more. He is committed to arts education and supporting the work of emerging artists. He is a co-founder of Studio School of Design, a not-for-profit foundation that is committed to increasing diversity in the entertainment design professions and to providing life-long learning opportunities for all.