Lighting Design for Dance
What types of dance performance lighting are we referring to? Ballet, Modern, and Contemporary. Traditional forms of dance are usually presented with complete technical and lighting facilities, under the controlled conditions of a proper theatre. If you've ever seen the Nutcracker at Christmas, you've seen the impact of lighting on dancers. It makes all the difference in the world and can create a heightened experience for the audience.
Because side light is an important technique in dance lighting, it's important to know a little history. First introduced to dance by Jean Rosenthal in the early 1940's, this famous American lighting designer required fixed lighting booms along the side at every entrance as a basis for flexibility and for lighting the whole stage. This technique gave the ballets a whole new look, influencing European designers. Other techniques used include down lights and back lights. Front light isn’t used very much - it doesn’t do much for the performers. Of course, the followspot is used in Ballet to highlight the movement of the dancers.
So, if you are new to the field of dance lighting, what are some of the specific recommendations you can employ? Be sure to understand the techniques of side lighting. It's typically required to use a vertical lighting boom (up to 4-6) in each entrance. Each boom may have one or more fixtures (usually 3-5). The fixtures, most likely ellipsoidals, are focused straight across the stage, and usually 'shutter' off, of the opposite side, stage masking.
A typical three fixture boom might have fixtures mounted at 10', 8' and 1 ft., above the floor. The fixtures are often referred to as being in a TOP, MID or SHIN positions. The TOP and MID fixtures are usually used for general side light. Often the TOPS and MIDS will have unique colored filters. To light the legs of the ballet dancer and provide light up, use a bottom lamp. For a non naturalistic angle of light, use the shins as the principal source.
Lighting for dance may not be as exciting or automated as other types of lighting, but the impact of lighting on the actual performance is, without a doubt, heightened in this art form.