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How This Designer Shapes What Audiences See Onstage
He may not be a household name, but you probably know Brandon Stirling Baker's work. The 30-year-old has designed the lighting for most of Justin Peck's ballets—including Heatscape for Miami City Ballet, and the edgy The Times Are Racing for New York City Ballet—but also Jamar Roberts' new Members Don't Get Weary at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and a trio of Martha Graham duets for L.A. Dance Project.
He's been fascinated by lighting ever since he attended a public performing arts middle school in Sherman Oaks, California, where he had his first experiences lighting shows. He also has a background in music (he plays guitar and bass) and in drawing. Both, he says, are central to the way he approaches lighting dance.
Creating The Right Space
Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Baker
"Lighting helps to create the point of view in dance. We have so much control over how an audience can see a piece. It can create something that's very human and very real. I create space for the dance to live in."
"Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces is one of the reasons I became a lighting designer. That piece really captures the use of space; from the moment the curtain rises there's this beautiful white space, like a breath of fresh air. I knew, when I saw that, that's what I want to strive for."
Painting With Light
Ailey dancers in Jamar Roberts' Members Don't Get Weary. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Baker
"At CalArts, I spent an enormous amount of time in life drawing classes, visual composition classes, animation, music. As a lighting designer, you study visual composition and color theory the same way a painter would."
Collaborating With Choreographers
San Francisco Ballet in Justin Peck's In The Countenance of Kings. Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy Baker
"You learn a lot about how choreographers think, what they like in their work, what they like in life. I learn the most about lighting a work by hearing a choreographer speak to their dancers."
"Almost a year in advance, we start thinking about, What is the world of this piece?"
"I always ask every choreographer, 'What is white light in this piece? Is it warm? Is it cool? Is it like hospital white?' "
How His Job Has Changed Him
New York City Ballet in Justin Peck's Rodeo. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Baker
"I see color differently now. When I listen to music, I think, Is there color in this? Is there enough color that I don't need to add onto that, that I can just support it?"
Dance May Be Behind—But That's Okay
Tiler Peck and New York City Ballet in Justin Peck's The Times Are Racing. Photo by Paul Kolnik, courtesy Baker
"I was just in Las Vegas at a lighting convention. We got to see a lot of technology and how it's used in other art forms. And dance is a little bit behind. But I'm not really driven by technology. I happen to work with tools that are technical, but I don't think of myself as a technical artist."
"I don't ever try to make it into a light show. I feel like it's the most successful when you don't really notice the lighting."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
We all know that the general population's knowledge of ballet is sometimes...a bit skewed. (See: people touching their fingertips to the top of their head, and Kendall Jenner hopping around at the barre.)
Would your average Joe know how to do ballet's most basic step: a plié? Or, more to the point, even know what it is?
SELF decided to find out.
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
For 17 years, James Samson has been the model Paul Taylor dancer. There is something fundamentally decent about his stage persona. He's a tall dancer—six feet—but never imposes himself. He's muscular, but gentle. And when he moves, it is his humanity that shines through, even more than his technique.
But all dancing careers come to an end, and James Samson's is no exception; now 43, he'll be retiring in August, after a final performance at the Teatro Romano in Verona, where he'll be dancing in Cloven Kingdom, Piazzolla Caldera and Promethean Fire.
The wait for Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of Petipa's Harlequinade is almost over! But if you can't wait until American Ballet Theatre officially debuts the ballet at the Metropolitan Opera House on June 6, we've got you covered. ABT brought the Harlequinade characters to life (and to the Alder Mansion in Yonkers, NY) in a short film by Ezra Hurwitz, and it's a guaranteed to make you laugh.
When an anonymous letter accused former New York City Ballet leader Peter Martins of sexual harassment last year, it felt like what had long been an open secret—the prevalence of harassment in the dance world—was finally coming to the surface. But the momentum of the #MeToo movement, at least in dance, has since died down.
Martins has retired, though an investigation did not corroborate any of the claims against him. He and former American Ballet Theatre star Marcelo Gomes, who suddenly resigned in December, were the only cases to make national headlines in the U.S. We've barely scratched the surface of the dance world's harassment problem.
Many choreographers have been defeated by Stravinsky's Rite of Spring. However, one dancemaker whose stridency, rhythmic daring and sheer inventiveness could possibly match Stravinsky's is Wayne McGregor. For his first commission from American Ballet Theatre, McGregor has taken on this earth-cracking music in AFTERITE, to premiere at ABT's Spring Gala. Also on the May 21 gala program are excerpts from Alexei Ratmansky's restaging of the comic ballet Harlequinade, the full version of which will premiere next month, and a pièce d'occasion by tapper Michelle Dorrance. May 21–26. abt.org.
If diamonds are a girl's best friend, it's safe to say that faux-diamond earrings are a dancer's best friend. A fixture onstage at just about every competition weekend, these blinged-out baubles are also the surest sign that recital season is upon us again. And what better way to get into the sparkly spirit than by drooling over these 5 diamonds in the rough? (Sorry not sorry!)