DAMIEN COOPER LIGHTS A CELEBRATORY WORK FOR THE SYDNEY DANCE COMPANY

For those who can see beyond the gold medals, the Olympic Games also celebrate the cultural life of the host city and country, and Australia turned on an arts festival that displayed the world-class talent of homegrown companies. One participant that needs little introduction to international audiences is the Sydney Dance Company (SDC).

Formed in the 1970s, the company is renowned for its innovative and contemporary style. Since 1976, acclaimed artistic director Graeme Murphy has been at the helm. SDC has performed in over 22 countries and has about 24 full-length commissioned works in its repertoire (it visited New York last November/December to perform some of its earlier work at the Joyce Theatre).

For the Olympics Arts Festival, Murphy created a new work, titled Mythologia, that is an epic dance-drama. It is a latter-day Olympic ode, honoring the heroes of ancient Greek mythology. The 60-voice Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir joined the 18 dancers onstage, and longtime Murphy collaborator and eminent Australian composer Carl Vine contributed the recorded score.

Damien Cooper, a young Australian LD, had the enviable challenge of lighting this mythical world, which is inhabited by Heracles (the first Olympic champion), and a variety of nymphs, Bacchanalian friends, and ancient characters. Designers George Freedman and Ralph Rembel presented Cooper with a spectacular white curved set dominated by 4x3m-high (13.2'x10') pillars on casters with 3x3m (10'x10') flame cannons sprouting from their tops.

The early closure of the lavish musical Pan, which had played the Capitol Theatre before Mythologia (see "Flight of fantasy," July 2000 LD), meant that Cooper had his "pick of toys" and access to equipment which under different circumstances might not have been available or affordable. (Also from Pan was programmer and head electrician Hugh Hamilton.) Even with this windfall, though, there were unforeseen events which meant that the budget remained tight.

"We had never budgeted for projection or for flying people, both of which became essential elements of the show," says Cooper. The flying aerial stunts and tightrope work were choreographed into a spectacular aerial ballet, which the LD was initially concerned would be difficult to light without revealing the flylines in the vast white space. "Graeme simply said to me not to worry about it as everyone knows they're not really flying, so we didn't, and it looked great."

One Sony data projector with a wide-angle lens was rigged on Bar 1 to provide texture onto the rear wall of the stage and onto the pillars. The abstract images included a section where Heracles turns into an eagle flying, then back into a man. The opening segment featured the projection of a lion's head with the sun rising through it, a dazzling image, Cooper says. The 60-strong choir was raised above the stage - when not singing, a giant 13x15m (43'x50') scrim was used in front of the choir to project various effects onto. These included rich autumnal leaves, and water effects; for the finale, the scrim was transformed into the heavens for the triumphant accession of Heracles.

Cooper had around 600 channels at his disposal, via a Strand 501 desk with moving lights software.

"I didn't want the space to look too candy-like, though," says Cooper, "so I kept the color on the cool side, with the workhorses being Lee 201, 202, and 203 [CT blue]. I also used a lot of L134, a warm amber, which accentuated the fake bronze tans of the dancers and the dusty gold shimmer on their bodies."

At times Cooper worked with the whiteness by using 5kW fresnels in open white to brighten the space. A mainstay of his rig was eight Martin Professional PALs retrofitted with wide-angle lenses, which he employed as shinbusters. The rig also consisted of 64 PAR-64 ACLs, which Cooper used to cut shafts of light through the haze created by a Reel EFX DF-50 hazer and several Martin Magnum 2000 smoke machines. Additional equipment for his Olympian endeavor included City Theatrical AutoYokes for 26 and 36 ETC Source Fours, Altman Shakespeares, High End Systems Dataflash[R] AF-1000s, and Selecon Pacific luminaires.

Apart from Mythologia, Cooper also recently lit The Theft of Sita, a Bali/Australia co-production that was part of the Adelaide Festival in South Australia. The piece explores the great Sanskrit story The Ramayana, which is set in Indonesia. It deals with the rescue of Sita, goddess of nature, by Lord Rama, while mirroring the modern downfall of President Suharto.

The production encompasses 150 Balinese shadow puppets, computer animation, photojournalism, and huge projection screens, and was accompanied by a live traditional gamelan orchestra and the Australian Art Orchestra. Performed in the open air, it proved a magical blend of the contemporary and traditional, directed by Nigel Jamieson, one of the creative directors of the Olympics.

The production team and performers spent time workshopping Sita in Bali, and the collaborators were pulled in from all over the world. Unlike Mythologia, which was bold, bright, and high-tech, Cooper went for the subtle approach - less is more - with Sita. He used a number of 24V projector bulbs on floor stands to create atmosphere, and the show was deliberately kept low-tech.

The puppets dominated the space and were manipulated from behind a small, traditional screen by five puppeteers. A Panasonic 1,000-lumen projector situated 17m (56') back from the screen was used to project evocative images of wasted landscapes and cityscapes. Cooper used around 150 lamps in the show, which included 58 ETC 36 Source Fours, 12 26 Source Fours, and around 70 PAR-64s. He used 18 Strand Nocturne 1kW floods and MR-16 birdies to create interesting low-key effects.

There was no escaping white tarkett for Cooper, who had to contend with a 1m (3') strip of it around the front edge of the performance area, which he lit with a soft gobo wash. The show itself was technically straightforward, yet provided Cooper with a great deal of satisfaction and enjoyment. "They were an amazing group of people to work with, and it was a fascinating show; we were getting 15-minute standing ovations. For my money, though, the best place to be was behind the scenes: What the puppeteers were doing was nothing short of phenomenal. Behind the screen, they used mechanical skateboards to zip around on, a fabulous spectacle to witness."