A Study of Who (and of lighting technology and dance)

Kyle Vanhemert’s Dec. 14, 2012 article for Fast Company’s Co-Design website features a collaboration (‘A Study of Who’, a piece about grief) between choreographer Heather Eddington, Anna Mae Selby, poet and playwright, and Nocte, a troop of lighting designers. From the article (Note: I have removed a link),

A Study of Who, a collaboration between director Heather Eddington and poet Anna Mae Selby, is an intimate dance performance that depicts the five stages of grief. Heavy stuff, to be sure. To help her represent that elemental human experience, Eddington tapped the interdisciplinary light designers at Nocte, who came back with a bold proposal: Filling the stage with 30 anglepoise lamps, custom-built to serve as scenery, establish ambiance, and respond to the performer dynamically throughout the piece, like a sort of Greek chorus of light.

Nocte has a webpage titled Woods (a selection from ‘A Study of Who’?) which features information about ‘A Study’,

In September 2012 we have been commissioned by artistic director Heather Eddington of State of Flux DanceFilm Company for their Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Awards 2013 finalist performance A Study of Who, organised in collaboration with Create and the Barbican.

A Study of Who is a collaboration between State of Flux and the poet Anna Mae Selby depicting the five stages of grief in a scenography inherently designed and implemented by Nocte.
By using different lighting setups and dispositions for each consecutively revealed element, every scene of the choreography is accentuated in its various settings.

The installation, comprising 30 unique handmade redwood anglepoise lamps with classic tungsten lightbulbs, is eventually emerging from the ground building a structured landscape of responsiveness and light, taking the spectator through the emotional and physical journey of the performer’s flowing display of grief.

The degree of the hanging light bulbs and the crossed placing of the lamps in a curved position, directing the visual impression of the scenery, create an interplay between light and shade.
The sequenced installation building the setting and following the motion of the story is providing a consistent spatial response for the viewer.

The Woods webpage also features a video selection from ‘A Study’. Note: This copy has been sized for this blog, you may want to see a larger version on the Woods’ webpage,

Stunning, eh? It also gives one pause to consider ‘old’ technology and ‘new’ technology.

Unfortunately, there’s no information on the Nocte website about the technology (other than the fact that these are old-fashioned tungsten lights) used to create the effects. It would have been interesting to know if and how they used sensors and/or a timing mechanism to coordinate with the dancers. It has to be wireless otherwise the dancers could be prone to tripping especially if one lighting piece isn’t placed exactly as it was during the last performance.

This piece in common with Martha Graham’s Lamentation expresses and explores grief. Graham is a legendary American choreographer who broke new ground in modern dance creating her own dance vocabulary which was much admired and copied. From the Martha Graham webpage on the University of Pittsburgh website,

Martha Graham was born in 1894 in a small city outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her father was an “alienist,” the term then used to describe a physician who specialized in human psychology. Dr. Graham was particularly interested in the way people used their bodies, an interest that he passed on to his eldest daughter. In later years, Martha Graham often repeated her father’s dictum: “movement never lies.”

… Based on her own interpretation of the Delsartean principle of tension and relaxation, Graham identified a method of breathing and impulse control she called “contraction and release.” For her, movement originated in the tension of a contracted muscle, and continued in the flow of energy released from the body as the muscle relaxed. This method of muscle control gave Graham’s dances and dancers a hard, angular look, one that was very unfamiliar to dance audiences used to the smooth, lyrical bodily motions of Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Denis. In her first reviews, as a result, Graham was often accused of dancing in an “ugly” way.

But critics and audiences soon became accustomed to Graham’s innovative style of movement and she developed a following among serious dance patrons, scholars and critics. During the early 1930s, her work was focused on emotional themes. Her famous solo, “Lamentation,” for example, was a portrait of a grieving women, sitting alone on a bench and moving to an anguished Kodaly piano score. The scholar Elizabeth Kendall has written that “Lamentation (image)” is both a piece about the emotion of grief and a visual homage to contemporary architecture, most notably the new skyscrapers that were beginning to fill the New York skyline. She describes Graham’s figure in the dance as “a skyscraper reeling,” making a connection between the two impulses of Graham’s aesthetic vision.

Two versions of grief, choreographed roughly eighty years apart.

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