Jeremy Choate sees the light in dance collaboration with Noblemotion on PhotoBox D
From mid-air, a flying body disappears into a velvety blackness as if consumed by an invisible force, reappearing quickly, only to be pulled back, sometimes even dragged, into the darkness. We see the dancers, and then we don't. I gasped when these daredevils careened into night, fearlessly leaping into the void. The experience gave new meaning to coming out of nowhere.
So it goes for the audience in Photo Box D,Noblemotion Dance's collaboration with lighting designer Jeremy Choate. NobleMotion's chief choreographers, Andy Noble and his wife Dionne Sparkman Noble, team up again with Choate to present "Splitting Night, An Evening of Dance and Light," on Friday and Saturday and Sept. 3-4, at Barnvelder, as part of the Houston Dance Festival. "It's total chaos in the darkness," offers Andy. "A whole other dance happens out of the light."
"We have the first word and the last word; without us you are in the dark," Nicholas Phillips, lighting designer and CultureMap co-founder told me once. He's right. Light determines what we see.
Christina Giannelli, Houston Ballet's former resident designer now at The Metropolitan Opera, went a step farther when she told me, "We help tell the narrative," in an Artshouston interview. How true this proved to be in Crystal Pite's Dark Matters, where near darkness amplified the menacing tone during Kidd Pivot's performance at Jacob's Pillow. I get excited when I don't know exactly what I am looking at.
Light is a mysterious force indeed. During graduate school, I kicked and screamed when I had to design lighting for a dance performance in order to get my walking papers. Can you imagine me on a ladder focusing lights? Me neither. I did, and even had to call cues, an experience I'm convinced took years off my life. Today, I'm grateful for what I was forced to learn.
Substantial and subconscious
Choate's designs have illuminated many a Houston production at Stages Repertory Theatre, Horse Head Theatre Co, Suchu Dance and Theatre Lab, to name a few of many. He's one of the most prolific lighting designers in the city. Drawn to flashlights and laser toys as a child, Choate discovered lighting through acting while in college. Finding dance proved yet another profound discovery.
"After my first light design for dance everything changed," Choate recalls. "Light has a sort of substantial, subconscious influence over the way we feel in any given environment. Sometimes, it's so beautiful that it’s impossible not to notice, like depth of a sunset, a rainbow cutting through the sky, or the brilliance just the moon alone can offer in a dark place, but most often it goes unnoticed."
Choate and the Nobles met at a college dance festival in 2009 when the husband and wife team, both on faculty at Sam Houston State University, marveled at the speed plus savvy in which Choate came up with lighting for their piece. "We hit it off right away," recalls Andy. "Plus, he liked our work."
Not long afterward, Choate sought out the Nobles via Facebook, and their first joint piece, Photo Box D, was in the works.
The connection was immediate for Choate as well. "NobleMotion is inventive, and a little bit unorthodox, and they’re not afraid of technology," he says. "Andy and Dionne don’t shy away from strange ideas before consideration of the exploration."
Usually, the dance comes first, with the lighting designer brought in closer to production. This trio worked backwards, having Choate come up with light installations first, then creating choreography as a form of interaction. A back and forth process then takes the collaboration to the next level.
Raised in a theater family, Andy appreciates the power of light in the grande scheme of a theaterical experience. "Light creates an environment, a mood, adding an element of spectacle," he says. "I also find light underused in dance." Lucky for the choreographers, they have been able to develop this work at SHSU's new dance theater, a venue built especially for dance. "It would have been impossible if we were not able to work in the theater," he says.
Their second collaboration, Light Blanket, took more finagling. "It took a while to get 44 nets of lights not to look like Christmas," Andy says. Now entering their third piece, the trio has developed a working methodology. Choate brings the technology while the Nobles add the humanity.
"I'm the instigator and rule breaker," quips Andy, "while Dionne refines and adds finesse." Light can change everything, often determining the emotional tone of any work. "We have totally transformed Barnevelder. Even the way the audience enters the performing space."
The new pieces push the trio into fresh territory. "We looked at the previous two collaborations with Jeremy, and figured out what was unique about those adventures. It was Jeremy's job to find additional installations that the dancers could interact with that would compliment the first two pieces. It was our job to continue to weave the choreography around the lights so that the two had an intrinsic relationship," says Dionne.
"Curiosity played a big role. The dancers were asked to spend time a lot of time with the lights generating movement tailored to that installation. All of us worked hard to create symbiotic relationships between the lights and the movement. I'm proud to say that the dance itself does not exist in the same way without the installations. The experience is a play on what is revealed and what remains hidden."
Choate couldn't rely on old skills either. "While I’ve experimented with unconventional light for a few years now, its always been installed as additional layer to the existing stage lights. These stage lights are designed to be lighting bodies and it’s easy to change the color and the texture angle sharpness, I mean that’s what they’re for," Choate says. "In this collaboration, I’m having to figure out how to do what I’ve been doing for years, without that primary tool."
Choate sums up "Splitting Night" elegantly:
Light, much like dance, has the ability to push through space, it slices through darkness and is charged with energy. It moves, bends, bounces and pulls; it is kinetic. Dance has the ability to take light as a formal art and allows it to actually dance on the stage; to open and close, create and recreate, to shift and move along with the performer. When light and dance work properly together the light does not substantiate the dancer or vice versa; they become one truth aligned in conversation with the viewer."
NobleMotion in Motion