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."
Jennifer Kahn knew the theater industry could do better. As a professional stage manager for 17 years she worked on regional, off-Broadway and Broadway shows. Nearly each time a show closed, something unsettling happened: "I would watch them throw away our shows. All of the beautiful artwork by my friends in the paint shop would go in the trash." The elaborate backdrops? Gone.
But she had an idea: What if the material used in the backdrops and legs could be upcycled into something new? And what if theater lovers could literally keep a piece of a beloved show?
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.
For decades the name Alicia Alonso has been virtually synonymous with Ballet Nacional de Cuba, the company she co-founded in Havana in 1948. Alonso died on October 17, just shy of what would have been her 99th birthday. In recent years, she had stepped back from day-to-day decision-making in the company. As if preparing for the future, in January, the company's leading ballerina, 42-year-old Viengsay Valdés, was named deputy director, a job that seems to encompass most of the responsibilities of a traditional director. Now, presumably, she will step into her new role as director of the company. Her debut as curator of the repertory comes in November, when the troupe will perform three mixed bills selected by her at the Gran Teatro de la Habana Alicia Alonso. The following has been translated from a conversation conducted in Spanish, Valdés' native tongue.
New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns wasn't sure she was strong enough. A ballerina who has danced many demanding full-length and contemporary roles, she was about to push herself physically more than she thought was possible.
"I said, 'I can't. My body won't,' " she says. "He told me, 'Yes, it will.' "
She wasn't working with a ballet coach, but with personal trainer Joel Prouty, who was asking her to do squats with a heavier barbell than she'd ever used.