For a one-off performance at Radio City Music Hall in New York, the Museum of Modern Art commissioned Swanlights from Antony and the Johnsons. Led by Antony Hegarty, this production expanded on The Crying Light, which was performed at the Manchester International Festival in 2009.
Paul Normandale took the helm as production/lighting designer, and laser artist Chris Levine wove intricate lines for the show, in which Hegarty and the 60-piece New York Symphony Orchestra performed on a crystalline-inspired set designed by Carl Robertshaw. "The idea for the piece was to imagine a quartz crystal," the performer said in an interview with The New York Times the week of the show. "We retrieve it from the center of a pitch-black mountain, and yet it has luminosity. That is the inspiration for the concert in a way, to suggest light and its relationship to darkness."
Normandale has worked with Hegarty for the past four years and was also involved in The Crying Light. For Swanlights, Normandale says, "Anthony broadly wanted to be absorbed visually within a crystal cave. The Radio City stage is much larger than the previous show in the Manchester Opera House in the UK, hence we upscaled lighting, lasers, and set. The major difference was, however, as opposed to a three-day build, we did it in one day."
And absorb the performer, the design team did. The "crystal" set piece was made by Rose Brand using kite-based technology, with lightweight fabric and carbon fiber. "The show was a series of reveals, and the crystal piece did, indeed, move," says Normandale. "It started with the downstage front gauze, to a mid-wall reveal of the orchestra, until finally, Radio City’s in-house LED wall." Before being fully uncovered, the LED wall was actually used as a light source for various effects behind the scrim.
The lighting palette evolved also. "The show developed from darkness to pale blues, congos, and finally, blinding white," says Normandale. His lighting rig included 29 Martin Professional MAC Aura fixtures, four MAC 700 Profiles, and six MAC 700 Wash units, as well as 12 Philips Vari-Lite VL500D fixtures, 13 Clay Paky Sharpy units, five ETC Source Four ellipsoidals (5° and 36°), and six Lowel Omni-lights. Lighting control was via a High End Systems Road Hog Full Boar console with a Wholehog Wing. Emma Westerberg programmed the lighting and called the show, and Upstaging supplied the lighting rig.
Levine started working with Hegarty on The Crying Light, after the performer saw his laser work on a Grace Jones production. "Essentially, I used two 17W white light diode lasers, two 6W white light diode lasers, and a 12W YAG laser," Levine says. "That’s all pretty standard, but a nice amount of laser light to work with as an artist. It’s what I did with the lasers to create the installations and laser worlds that is somewhat non-standard. I use my own proprietary ways of generating the effects using custom built optical systems and holographic elements, and they derive from a lot of experimental work. These are in a constant state of development." Levine’s gear was supplied by UK-based laser company ER Productions.
Levine adds that, like The Crying Light, the work Swanlights remains in further development. It’s no wonder Billboard.com called the show "an operating, awe-inspiring one-time performance piece."