Lighting designer Les Dickert serves as lighting supervisor for White Oak Dance Project, the innovative modern dance company which performs under the artistic direction of dancer-extraordinaire Mikhail Baryshnikov. Dickert's work, along with that of White Oak's primary lighting designer, Jennifer Tipton, was seen in PASTForward, a program presented Brooklyn Academy of Music on June 5-9, 2001.
PASTForward examines the work created by such seminal modern dance choreographers as Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, and David Gordon, and their early performances, many of which were held at the Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in Greenwich Village, New York City. Many of the works on the program were created between 1960 and 1970, and show the roots of contemporary modern dance.
Dickert tours with White Oak, and has taken PASTForward to Princeton, Anchorage, and Paris as part of a ten-city tour. He lit Yvonne Rainer's Talking Solo and her Chair/Pillow, while Tipton lit the other works on this program. "I did research on the period," says Dickert, who consulted with Tipton on the approach to take. "We looked at how the dance was meant to be taken. There is no illusion. No artifice." The lighting follows suit.
"The lighting is purely presentational," Dickert explains. "There is never a notion of putting in colors and we use the house equipment, which in the case of BAM is mostly Strand. There are no moving lights, and no tricks. This is anti-toys." In fact, the designers use a stripped down plot of just 120 fixtures, with what Dicket calls "the ABC's of dance lighting: just light the people. No bells or whistles." The only color used is a little Lee 202 in mid-height side lights, Lee 201 in some front lights, and Rosco 54 lavender as shadow light.
Each of the works is lit differently, in spite of the simple rig. "With just 120 lights in the air, you have to focus very precisely," says Dickert. "The heat of the light must be in exactly the right place." For David Gordon's The Matter, the light looks very white, even though there are just a few instruments on bright. The same ones, dimmed down, look very different and much warmer. "This is an exercise in different ways to use the same lights," Dickert explains.
There is also a lot of video used in PASTForward. "The lighting has to make the video look good. You can't shine light into the camera when there is live video," says Dickert, who worked with the cameraman to balance things compositionally for the audience. "We were on headset and constantly making adjustments cue by cue to get the right light for the stage and for the camera."
Baryshnikov has explored these older dance pieces and found a treasure trove that still delights audiences today. As Dickert puts it, "we present the material for what it is. It may be 30 years old, but it still works now."