Video and lighting intertwined to create the visual palette for the world premiere of Architecture of Loss, a new piece by choreographer Stephen Petronio seen during his New York season at The Joyce Theatre in March. “I am credited as the visual designer, which means I designed a delivery system comprising the design of images and the placement of the screens and projectors,” explains Ken Tabachnick, dean of the school of the arts at Purchase College, SUNY, who has also been Petronio’s lighting designer for decades. “In this way, I can conceive of the entire visual picture working with a video person. I am able to alter color and pacing to make sure the projections blend with the way the lighting is working and don’t overpower the choreography. This creates a more integrated process than just having video in the background. We can establish a narrative and visual arc for the video and then mold the lighting accordingly.”
In Architecture of Loss, projected paintings scroll and change color on three upstage screens. “I added pink to the light when it was added to the video as well,” explains Tabachnick, who used Lee Filters 104 (Deep Amber) and Lee 110 (Middle Rose) in ETC Source Fours to echo the introduction of color in the video for a unified look in the dance and images. “There is a shift in the piece—the music gets faster—and color is introduced and paves the way for the duets later in the piece. Sections one, two, and three have no color; four, five, six have color; seven, eight, nine transition back to no color.”
Tabachnick also used PAR backlights (PAR strips in the Joyce light plot) plus wide PAR64s as special backlight in the world premiere, focused in a very specific way, high back diagonal to cast shadows in specific directions, to match angled design of the choreography. “Generally speaking, there is no rep plot for Stephen’s company, and the lighting is different from piece to piece,” says Tabachnick. “I try to stay tuned to what Stephen is doing in any given year and to my reaction to it.”
Tabachnick, Petronio, and The Joyce are all old friends, having “known” each other for decades. “The Joyce has a rep plot we modify depending on the pieces we are doing,” notes Tabachnick. “Stephen has only a few pieces he tours every year, so we can tailor each year’s plot to fit that work. When lighting Architecture of Loss, I knew what the lighting was for City of Twist, an older piece also on the program.”
The lighting for City of Twist, Petronio’s response to 9/11, is “conceptually simple,” says Tabachnick. “For City of Twist, Roscolux 53 [Pale Lavender] is used in ETC Source Fours, overhead from the pipes, originally with no color from the ends of pipes to the edges of the stage and in head-highs. As the no-color was too warm against the light source from the projectors for Architecture of Loss once we got into the space, I changed this to Lee 202 [Half CTB]. So I modified the color for City of Twist as well.”
In City of Twist, images on the upstage wall are stock gobos. “We wanted them to almost look industrial, not specially designed for the piece, which is a story about everyday people, portraits of typical New Yorkers,” Tabachnick explains. “The lighting is very dramatic, very chiaroscuro, spare in its design. The dancers move to the edge of the light intentionally, revealing only part of the body. The light wraps their muscles. The idea is for each dancer to have his own space, like we all do as we move through the city of nine million people. I think of that line from the television show, The Naked City: ‘There are eight million stories in the naked city; this has been one of them,’ as a way to make each character have his own story visually. In the final solo, with a series of photo flashes, the character is more allegorical to evoke all the others.”
Petronio, a veteran of the New York modern dance scene (former member of Trisha Brown’s company) doesn’t dance much anymore, but this season he is performing his version of Steve Paxton’s Intravenous Lecture from the 1970s. Tabachnick’s task for this piece was to pull out a solo dancer from a black environment. “He was dressed in a white t-shirt, which made it easier,” says the LD. “I chose almost a clinical look, with light from 360° but more backlight to pull him out of the background. In this case, the light is less focused on the musculature of the body and more on Stephen’s face to make sure the audience could relate to him as a performer. This is more theatrical than your typical dance piece.” Tabachnick added blue to the light, using the same plot, simply cooler than the other pieces on the program.
Another member of the team is lighting director Burke Wilmore, who has also worked with Petronio for years. “He tours with the company and reproduces my lighting,” says Tabachnick. “Stephen and I work very quickly together, understand each other. With Stephen, we visually work on the arc of the evening; we discuss program order and design each evening for the best audience experience and the energy of the program. Stephen is the only choreographer I continue to light for. I love working with him.”