Lighting designer Clifton Taylor plays a collaborative role in Mechanics of the Dance Machine, a new evening-length piece by choreographer Karole Armitage that premiered at New York Live Arts in New York City (January 31-February 2, and February 7–9, 2013).
In her new work Armitage invites the on stage to see movement from unusual points of view. They can also participate in the performance itself by following light cues indicating where to walk or stand. The audience follows Taylor’s pathways of red light that move in and around the dancers. The patterns have a beauty of their own derived from mathematical shapes called Walsh functions. The asymmetrical patterns become increasing complex as the dance unfolds.
“I've been very interested in the writing and mathematical work of Stephen Wolfram for a long time. His book, "A New Kind of Science," has affected my thinking in very profound ways and I've returned to it several times over the years,” says Taylor “One of his big insights is that natural systems can often be broken down to quite compact (and elegant) algorithms which when combined with randomness (provided by the environment) yield the complexity that we see in the natural world. When Karole and I were discussing this piece, we talked about the work of Wolfram and further research led us to JL Walsh, a mathematician from the 1920's. His work underlies all of the computer science where digital functions are manipulated to portray the analog world. If you are involved in computer sound or graphics, you are using Walsh's work. I believe that Karole's choreography resonates with the work of Walsh and Wolfram on many levels.”
Taylor used a series of diagrams of the simplest forms of the Walsh functions as a basis for the designs. “The theater stage has been stripped of all curtains and we've placed a white Marley over the entire stage, including the areas that are normally 'backstage', all the way to the walls. Within that, we've created a square and the lighting presents a series of shapes in two colors that progress through the hour-long work,” he explains.
“We had to decide how to render the black and white diagrams into the piece and we ended up in a red and white world. I've avoided red over most of my career because I've always felt that it is not am easily nuanced color, and that it has a brutality to it. By that I mean that as soon as an audience perceives any red, it becomes only one thing, only RED,” Taylor continues “Blue can be shifted around to be teal or lavender-like, but red has a tendency to just sit there. Hence my long-time avoidance, which of course I wanted to move past! This was a perfect opportunity to use it because in this piece, we are not trying to render a realistic world (where red is often problematic).”
Because there is only one color of gelled light (Rosco 25) set against white (no colored source/4's), Taylor found it interesting to see how the two colors push each other around. “The white at times looks so fantastically green and the red seems to moves from amber through deep tones depending on its placement in the larger composition,” he notes. “It has also been so satisfying to work on the white floor because at this theater, the severe rake of the house means that the floor IS the background that the audience sees behind the dancers. At times there are beautiful halos of color that follow the dancers around and at other times there is an almost three-dimensional effect where the floor doesn't seems to be multiple planes and levels. In very controlled situations, a white floor can be such a joy!”