When Japanese choreographer Kim Itoh and his company The Glorious Future first performed in the UK in 1999, their memorable work featured three naked male dancers strutting their stuff. The return visit this year was a little more sober in terms of attire but just as eclectic and explosive in the choreographic sense. Itoh is a choreographer with a penchant for mixing his genres with a dash of ballet, theatre, and Butoh sizzling away in his creative genes. He has been tagged the "bad boy" of the Butoh community and blends the starkness of the haunting Butoh style with a contemporary Western flavor.
The company's only UK appearance for 2001 saw them perform in Brighton on the South coast of England, as part of its annual international arts festival. Brighton is rapidly developing a reputation as the place to be in the UK for contemporary dance. Once favored by royalty, the seaside resort has several stunning venues which are a legacy of its regal past. One such site is the recently refurbished Corn Exchange, built in the 1800s as the flamboyant Prince Regent's riding house. It was within this grand setting that Itoh unleashed his ghostly and unpredictable work.
Since reopening last year, after undergoing extensive renovations, the 320-seat Corn Exchange has been busy. The flexibility of the space, with its mechanical seating, motorized lighting bars, and ground-support staging system, enabled the venue's technical crew to orchestrate a rapid 24-hour turnaround to convert the space from a catwalk setup to a traditional black box for Itoh and his company.
Lighting designer Hisashi Adachi has been associated with Itoh's company since its inception in 1995 and his stunning work has been seen around the globe through his involvement with several notable companies. Adachi is attracted to the edginess of contemporary dance and his work with another New York-based Japanese choreographer, Kei Takei, has seen him act as lighting designer on an 11-hour dance work titled Light: Parts 1-15.
Adachi's artistry on Itoh's UK performance of I Want to Hold You and Pampas Grass, a 12-minute excerpt from Screaming Garden, was abundantly evident through his stark and powerful style. The minimal stage setting and simple, neutral costumes gave Adachi carte blanche to create a striking visual impression with his precise geometric patterns and use of low, saturated color.
The lighting team at Brighton was familiar with Adachi's methods from his earlier visit, and together with Adachi's assistant, Satoe Morishima, they were able to recreate his beautiful images in his absence due to other production commitments. Mike Herbert, one of the senior lighting technicians at the Corn Exchange, is a great admirer of Adachi's meticulous paperwork with its exact diagrams and measurements.
Much of the lighting is based around thin lines of light that are no wider than a standard strip of gaffer tape. When the five-person technical crew from the company arrived in the venue, they had limited time in which to mark up the performance area to enable the precision focusing to take place. Herbert remarked that it wasn't unusual to take up to an hour to focus one thin strip of light, such is the importance of the positioning.
The rig consisted of around 130 luminaires to cover a performance space of 14x10m (46'x33'). The bulk of the lighting came from overhead, side booms, and backlight, with only half a dozen profiles providing front fill. ETC Source Four 50º ellipsoidals ensured enough control to create various tight, geometric patterns on the floor, which the dancers interacted with.
Seven booms were rigged on each side of the stage with four Cantata 18/32º lamps on each, providing a crucial coverage of sidelight from shinbusters to high head. Two 5kW fresnels pumped backlight into the space along with PAR cans, and the overhead rig contained an assortment of lamps including Strand SL 15/30s and 25/50s to accommodate the short throw distance.
The detailed information the venue technicians received from Adachi prior to the company's arrival enabled them to pre-rig the show and have it patched and plugged in. A disk from the company's ETC Expression desk was sent from Japan containing the show's 200 lighting cues, which were then loaded into the venue's Strand LBX control desk. This meticulous planning ensured that precious lighting time was not wasted.
There were many memorable lighting moments throughout the performance and all were achieved with artistry rather than a flamboyant use of technology. A lovely image from I Want to Hold You saw six pendant lamps with PAR-36 bulbs lowered slowly from the grid to stop just above the dancers' heads. The dancers interacted with the tiny amount of light to produce startling images. The pendant lamps were then slowly flown up, fading as they vanished from sight.
Itoh's choreography, which explores the central theme of "extraordinary quality in ordinary, everyday life," was beautifully serviced by Adachi's haunting images, where light trickled away to near blackness or blitzed the stage with a burning intensity. The work of choreographer and lighting designer married beautifully to create a performance of evocative visuals, which reminds us of how powerful contemporary dance can be, when technology and creativity seamlessly meld.
Jacqueline Molloy is a UK-based freelance writer with a background in lighting and production managment. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.