The Dance Theatre of Harlem bills itself as a “neoclassic ballet company,” which means that the troupe might dance to anything from James Brown and Aretha Franklin to Tchaikovsky. It's the responsibility of Anthony Jones, DTH's sound engineer, to make sure that his touring system does full justice to the musical style of the moment. In addition, his system of choice must evenly blanket the venue with sound, regardless of its size or shape, as well as adapt to different music sources: playback of custom-mastered CDs (typical for most performances) or, as a rare treat, a full orchestra.
“I needed a system that could provide good, even coverage through some fairly large halls, with minimal reliance on the house clusters,” says Jones. “It had to provide ample sound levels for soul music and heavy percussion, but also reproduce the subtlety of Bach and the dynamics of Stravinsky, and make it all sound wonderful.”
For the core of his system, Jones selected a complement of 14 self-powered Meyer Sound loudspeakers, a Yamaha DM-2000 digital mixing console, and a small outboard rack of Klark-Teknik and BSS equalizers. For the main FOH loudspeaker system, Jones normally used a set configuration of two floor-stacked left and right clusters: a 650-P high-power subwoofer at the bottom, two splayed CQ-1 wide coverage main loudspeakers in the middle to cover the orchestra section, and a single CQ-2 narrow coverage main loudspeaker on top for coverage in the balcony, mezzanine, or box seats. For front fill, Jones laid out two UPJ-1P compact VariO™ rotatable horn loudspeakers, which he claims have proven surprisingly robust. On-stage monitoring for the dancers was provided by a quartet of Meyer Sound UPA-1P compact wide coverage loudspeakers, normally rigged inside the lighting towers at each corner of the stage. All sound equipment for the tour was provided by ProMix (now PRG Audio) of Mount Vernon, NY.
Interestingly, Jones found that the performances using only CD playback place a particular burden on the sound engineer: he has sole responsibility for the music. Unlike the conductor of an orchestra, he could not introduce pauses or alter tempos during a show. But he could work with the dynamic range of the music, the overall levels, as well as highlighting sounds or instruments with judicious application of EQ. To that end, even though the Yamaha board has ample internal facilities, Jones preferred having a small rack of trusty British equalizers by his side.
Regardless of orchestra size, Jones usually distributed about 19 microphones through the various sections, and amplified selectively, mainly strings, in the monitors. His microphone choices tilt toward the European makers, mainly Sennheiser, Neumann, and AKG.
Granted, the audience comes to see the dancers, but Jones nevertheless sees his role as pivotal, at least in some regard, for the entire touring troupe of more than 60 dancers and technicians. “Somebody once said that dance without lights is radio, and dance without music is mime,” philosophizes Jones. “So, when you think about it, yes, it wouldn't be the same without the sound. I do my part to make dance — with music — the best experience possible.”