Soft green light filters through the grass of a rice paddy. A strong beam of red light accents a straw hat sitting on the floor center stage. A woman is confined in a tight pool of light as she recalls her childhood. These images make up Ping Chong's impressionistic dance performance piece, After Sorrow (Viet Nam), the third part of his East/West trilogy, seen last winter at La Mama in New York City.
With sets designed by Watuko Ueno, projections by Jan Hartley (with Chong), and lighting by Thomas Hase, After Sorrow distills intimate fragments of different life stories performed by Muna Tseng. Voiceovers by Tseng, Chong, and Louise Smith add to the overlapping texture. "The lighting follows the emotion of the scenes," says Hase, who has collaborated with Chong on six different productions since 1989. "It is not realistic as to where we are, but I knew the lighting needed to be clear and precise for the story we were telling."
In the first scene, a woman in traditional Chinese dress is confined in a series of small spaces delineated by tight pools of light, as if she is isolated from all that is around her. Hase used 19-degree ETC Source Four ellipsoidals with Lee 201 as color. "We had them cued at around 80% to cause the Lee 201 to read as cold light rather than blue light," he says. "I wanted to keep the imagery as black and white as possible until the performer stood up, breaking herself out of the isolation and moving upstage left. At that moment she begins reliving a happier time in her life, and the imagery changed to color." Hase used double Lee 151 Gold Tint in a diagonal backlight to enhance the scene.
The second half of the performance is set in a Vietnamese rice paddy where the grain is just beginning to grow, as the country heals from the effects of Agent Orange and the war. The rice grass is bathed in red (Roscolux 26) and green (Lee 139) from shinbusters. By lighting the performer with higher sidelight, Hase was able to create a contrast between the woman and her environment. The nighttime light is not traditional moonlight, but a red light that Hase used as "a visual choice for a different idea of night. The red is a real spike to the scene to take it out of a realistic element," he says.
"I chose to layer a very strong template backlight in order to take the realistic image of this rice field to the abstract," says Hase, who used Rosco pattern 7071, which he describes as "a very clean ellipse pattern," and which he used in six 36-degree Source Fours. "We spent a good amount of time focusing the individual units in such a way that the patterns matched up, giving the appearance of one giant template over the whole dance floor," Hase says.
Two 250W PAR-16 birdies for downstage footlights (one with double Lee 157, the other with double Lee 151) supported the light of a lantern the woman carried. "The lamplight alternated between having a bright reddish flame and a more golden light," Hase notes. "The more reddish unit was used when an experience was happening at that moment, or for the more filmic images. The golden light was used as the woman sat on her bench telling of life that had already been experienced. I created more of an 'old masters' quality of times gone by."
Hase and Chong decided that any patterns on stage would recall the circular movement of the choreography, so Hase tried to perceive a circle in as many ways as possible. To create three rings of light with darkened centers, he discovered that only a glass projection would do the job. "These were created by having clear glass Scene Machine slides cut down to the size of a Source Four pattern slot," Hase explains. "We then drew a ring of light and shaded in the center and the outsides with a Sharpie marker." Hase's homemade slides were used in 50-degree Source Fours and he credits his assistant, John Frautschy, with helping make this process work.
The analog lighting system used for After Sorrow included an ETC Expression console and 36 ETC dimmers provided by Big Apple Lighting, used in concert with 24 house dimmers. After Sorrow is scheduled to visit Seoul and Tokyo as part of an international fall tour that includes dates in Washington D.C. and Long Beach, CA.