It’s not every day that a Tony Award-winning actress appears at New York City Ballet (NYCB). However, that was the case this past spring when Patti LuPone sang Anna 1, while NYCB principal Wendy Whalen danced Anna 2 in a revival of the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht ballet with songs, The Seven Deadly Sins, which originally premiered in Paris in 1933. George Balanchine revived it for New York City Ballet in 1958, with this latest iteration directed and choreographed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, featuring sets by Beowulf Boritt and lighting by Jason Kantrowitz. The costumes are by Judanna Lynn.
“Our creative team approached the piece as a theatrical story,” says Kantrowitz. “A visual tale of a daughter sent away from her humble Louisiana home to make money to send back to her family.” That daughter, Anna, travels to seven cities, where she is exposed to the seamier side of humanity. “Taylor-Corbett and I watched many New York City Ballet performances from various locations around the David Koch Theatre to absorb the audience’s sense of dancers’ scale and proportion in this magnificent space,” Kantrowitz adds. “The scenery was definitely designed with the dancers in mind, creating large open areas for sweeping movement.”
The set and costume designers selected a specific palette with a dominant color for each scene: Louisiana in blue; “Sloth” in gray; “Pride” (Memphis) in red; “Anger” (Hollywood) in yellow; “Gluttony” (Philadelphia) in pink; “Lust” (Boston) in purple; “Greed” (Baltimore) in black and white; and “Envy” (San Francisco) in green. Kantrowitz highlighted and contrasted the same hues in light, to enable the set and dancers to stand out the most. “In our storytelling, the character of Anna leaves the monochromatic world she grew up in along the Mississippi River in New Orleans and ventures out across America. In each city, she is exposed to a new burst of color, energy, and experiences that affect her thinking,” notes the lighting designer.
Kantrowitz knew he had to design within the NYCB rep plot. “Fortunately, over the years resident lighting designer Mark Stanley has nurtured the light plot into a flexible toolkit to create the varied looks for the hundreds of ballets in rep,” he says, giving props to “brilliant lighting director Penny Jacobus, assistant lighting director Eric Larson, and the fantastic stage managers and crew who I found to be adept at lightning-quick changeovers between ballets.”
By carefully choreographing eight followspots—four Robert Juliat Aramis 2,500W HMI units in the FOH followspot booth and four ETC Source Four 19° 750W ellipsoidals with irises on the first electric—the lighting highlighted key performances and created moving specials. The workhorses for varying color and looks comprised a battery of eight Philips Vari-Lite VL3500 Wash units, six VL3500 Spots, and six VL1000s. “We used live movement judiciously for certain effects but mostly used the moving lights to help focus color and light in key locations,” says Kantrowitz. “The use of color scrollers and ballet-specific colors of low sidelight and cyc lighting helped create unique looks for our journey through The Seven Deadly Sins.” Gel colors included the standard NYCB rep scrolls in ETC Source Fours, plus Lee 180 Dark Lavender for the sidelight, Lee 181 Congo Blue in head highs, Lee 110 Middle Rose in mids, and Lee 137 Special Lavender and Lee 203 Quarter C.T. Blue in shins. In melding ballet and musical theatre, Kantrowitz’s biggest challenge was the need to create equal focus on LuPone and the entire company of dancers.
“On a Broadway stage, I’d light it differently, creating a dazzling star look and featuring the dancers in a backup role,” he explains. “Here, each and every dancer’s movement needed to shine as strongly as Patti’s lyrics. Our colorfully sinful journey was successful in helping the audience follow along this visual tour de force. I strove to create a look for The Seven Deadly Sins that is interesting, theatrical, and different from other pieces in the rep.”