In October, American Ballet Theatre presented its fall season which included a new ballet, Clear, by acclaimed young Australian choreographer Stanton Welch. Set to a Bach concerto for violin and oboe, Clear is a 20-minute ballet for seven men and one woman. It is both athletic and haunting, with a classical dance vocabulary that incorporates modern gestures.
The men's scenes are bathed in golden yellow with faint white patterns. When the woman enters, the stage is washed in deep blue causing the patterns to show up better, giving those scenes a very romantic and pretty moonlight-and-stars feeling. (Interestingly, the French word for clear, "clair," is also one of the words for light, as in "clair de lune," or moonlight.) The piece ends with the lead man holding the woman, who is reaching up to heaven or to the stars. The light fades down to one central spot on them, then irises down to just illuminate the woman's hand.
Shedding light on the dance is Lisa Pinkham, a Bay Area-based dance lighting designer. She originally went to college to be a writer/photographer, but caught the lighting bug when one of her roommates, a theatre design student, asked if she wanted to help backstage. "Lighting seems very natural to me," she says. "It made total sense."
She has been doing theatrical lighting for 19 years, "since 1990 almost exclusively dance." She has stayed in the performing arts and hasn't branched into architectural lighting like so many LDs these days, because "there's no music involved in architecture." For her, a project "needs to have romance and it needs to have heart, and architecture just isn't very interesting to me. I mean, I appreciate it, but...."
Pinkham got the call to design Clear because she's done other work with Welch. "He's great because he's very open," she says. "He has a lot of his own ideas, and he's fun to work with."
Since the ABT season offered very little design time--a few hours here and there during tech week--Pinkham and Welch decided to keep the lighting very simple. "We talked about the ballet in terms of who are the men and who is the woman, and what's going on? And it turned out to be a very simple idea: The men are chaos and the woman represents clarity and calmness. He had related part of his personal life to the ballet. In his own life there was a lot of chaos, but about one thing he was very clear, and that helped build the ballet.
"The biggest decision we had to make was what color did we want," she continues. "We went with Lee 104 yellow and Rosco 80 blue because together they make white. I knew he wanted to have cues like, 'Now the woman's on, now it's cool; now the men are on, now it's hot,' and I would be unhappy if we bounced back and forth, but if you work yellow and blue together you can go through white to get to either end. To your eye, watching it go from yellow to blue, it could flow better."
The dance floor is covered with templates in white; from the balcony it almost looks like a carpet of small swirls or abstract rosettes. "It's 'Tortellini,' one of the new gobos in Rosco's catalog," the designer explains. "I like to use frontlight templates because it helps with face light; it helps to bring the people out but not flatten them too much. To me it's more interesting."
Pinkham made only one equipment request. "We did ask for an AutoYoke for the last look of the ballet. It's a 50º Source Four that starts full open and we close it to just be big enough to get her hand."
Other than the time crunch, Clear was a technically straightforward design to implement. "It was questionable whether ABT was going to be able to get the AutoYoke," the designer explains. "If they had said they didn't have any place to put it--the plot's very full, there's not a lot of room up there--we would have had to do it a different way and it wouldn't have had the same feel to it."
The New York Times proclaimed Clear "a major hit," praising Welch's "explosive, fiercely danced" choreography, its "aggressive exuberance," and the "ethereal, mystical quality" of ballerina Julie Kent.
Just before Clear, Pinkham lit a new Julia Adam piece for the Joffrey Ballet, and she has another Julia Adam dance for San Francisco Ballet in February. "And Joffrey's doing Astarte again in April," she concludes. "We're going to do new lighting for it, with film and rock and roll, and all kinds of things going on with it."