State of the Arts 2012
The Arthropologist

Blinded by the light: Remembering how Jeremy Choate created magic on H-Town dance stages

Blinded by the light: Remembering how Jeremy Choate created magic on H-Town dance stages

Jeremy Choate, in light
The amazing Jeremy Choate standing in the light Photo by © Lynn Lane
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, Suchu Dance in Ella Paradise, NAMES IN EMAIL, Photo by Lorie Garcia, Light design by Jeremy Choate
Suchu Dance artists in Ella Paradise, with light design by Jeremy Choate Photo by Lorie Garcia
Jacquelyne Boe is bathed in Jeremy Choate's lighting design for Photo Box D, in Splitting the Night choreographed by    Andy Noble & Dionne Sparkman Noble
Jacquelyne Boe is bathed in Jeremy Choate's lighting design for Photo Box D in Splitting the Night, choreographed by Andy Noble and Dionne Sparkman Noble. Photo by © Lynn Lane
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, Stephen Vitiello- All Those Vanishes Engines, ighting by Jeremy Choate
A scene from All Those Vanishes Engines, with lighting by Jeremy Choate Courtesy of MASS MOCA
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, Catalina Molnari in Toni Valle's Tetris
Catalina Molnari in Toni Valle's Tetris Photo and Lighting by Jeremy Choate
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute,  Erik Hellman in The Stage Repertory Theater production of Will Eno's Oh! The Humanity
Erik Hellman in The Stage Repertory Theater's production of Will Eno's Oh! The Humanity, with lighting by Jeremy Choate Photo by © Bruce Bennett
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D
Artists of NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D Photo and Lighting by Jeremy Choate
Jeremy Choate, in light
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, Suchu Dance in Ella Paradise, NAMES IN EMAIL, Photo by Lorie Garcia, Light design by Jeremy Choate
Jacquelyne Boe is bathed in Jeremy Choate's lighting design for Photo Box D, in Splitting the Night choreographed by    Andy Noble & Dionne Sparkman Noble
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, Stephen Vitiello- All Those Vanishes Engines, ighting by Jeremy Choate
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, Catalina Molnari in Toni Valle's Tetris
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute,  Erik Hellman in The Stage Repertory Theater production of Will Eno's Oh! The Humanity
Nancy, Jeremy Choate tribute, August 2012, NobleMotion Dance in Photo Box D

The arts community lost a dear friend. I lost a friend and a colleague. By now, you know that Jeremy Choate died due to injuries sustained during a motorcycle accident last weekend. Choate was one of Houston's most treasured dance lighting designers.

He worked with Suchu Dance, Karen Stokes Dance, 6 Degrees, Hope Stone, NobleMotion, Infinite Motion Ever Evolving (IMEE), Michele Brangwen Dance EnsembleRevolve and others, in addition to his work on all the Big Range Dance Festivals and Weekend of Contemporary Dance at Miller Outdoor Theatre.

You won't find a dance person in this city that doesn't have a story about how he helped, supported and became a friend to an entire community. Just about everyone remembers Choate's kindness and generosity. But now is the time to also remember his spectacular body of work on Houston's dance stages.

Much of my past decade of Houston dance watching was filtered through the lens of Choate's lighting design. I watched him grow into an artist in his own right.  

Much of my past decade of Houston dance watching was filtered through the lens of Choate's lighting design. I watched him grow into an artist in his own right. He had a great career ahead of him, and was working more toward artistic ownership of his pieces.

His work and life touched just about every dance company at one time in their careers. For some, like Andy and Dionne Sparkman Noble of Noblemotion, he helped define the company. 

Unlike theater lighting, where one often has to approximate three in the afternoon in a 19th century living room, dance lighting calls on a different part of the imagination. It's about building and supporting the world created by the choreographer. Choate drew from a different part of his magic-making on the dance stage. I had the great privilege of writing about many of his designs over the years.

Stories to tell

Choate considered light as another moving element, and in the process elevated the production values of local dance. He had a keen sense of rhythm, often using dynamic cues that highlighted the choreography. His installation work at DiverseWorks and MASS MOCA showed yet another aspect of his interest in lighting the character of a space. In fact, I will be ending my summer in the Berkshires with my annual pilgrimage to MASS MOCA, this time to see Choate's work in Stephen Vitiello's All Those Vanished Engines.

Houston dance artists, shaken as they are from the loss, have stories to tell.

"Working with Jeremy was a dream," says Toni Valle's who worked with Choate for Tetris, her second major evening-length work. "He saw my vision to create the split-personality world that embodied both the time period of the '80s, and the Freudian characters I had created, without making them two-dimensional caricatures.

"Every scene was carefully thought out, and not only beautifully well lit, but emotionally charged and reminiscent of a much-loved but troubled early adulthood that marked my generation."

 "Jeremy knew how to use the dark as well as the light." 

Valle recalls how hard he worked to get the section on love and AIDS just right. "Jeremy hit the mood of fear, separation, and anxiety dead-on with a mottled gobo, shafts of dim light, and alternating shadows," recalls Valle. "Jeremy knew how to use the dark as well as the light."

Nowhere is his penchant for the power of darkness more evident than in his wok with NobleMotion. The velvety blackness of Photo Box D was as exciting as the glaring white lights that sometimes stunned us into seeing. It was in his time with NobleMotion that he took some of his biggest risks, becoming truly part of the creative process.

"Jeremy was an incredibly thoughtful artist, but was not afraid to make people uncomfortable with his work. He had reached a wonderful place in his career where he knew all of the rules of his craft and was looking for the unconventional," recalls Noble, co-artistic director.

"What excited me so much about his work and collaborating with him, was that nothing was off the table. He was seeking out opportunities to shake things up--excited to try new things. A unique hallmark of Jeremy's work, was that he could take everyday mundane lighting instruments and create a world of light that had emotion and texture. There was a magic to his work, a boyish wonder. A galaxy of stars, a looming realm of shadows and darkness and our choreography liked growing in those scary places."

Strong collaboration

His work with choreographer Jennifer Wood with Suchu Dance stands as some of the strongest collaborative work in the history of Houston dance. Unlike larger theaters where you tech, dress and perform in one day, at Barnevelder Wood and Choate were able to develop the work in the performance space, creating considerably more nuanced performances as a result.

"As a designer, Jeremy always made my life easier because he would get the job done beautifully without needing much decision-making on my part, leaving me free to worry about other things," says Wood. "Many times he would stay overnight at the theater working on an installation or hanging lights so that everything would be ready in time."

 Once of his most memorable pieces for Suchu was Impluvium, where he installed 500 small LED lights suspended, evenly spaced throughout the high space onstage. Simply breathtaking. 

Once of his most memorable pieces for Suchu was Impluvium, where he installed 500 small LED lights suspended, evenly spaced throughout the high space onstage. Simply breathtaking.

"This created an otherworldly atmosphere in the space giving an exciting boost to the work, and one I had not envisioned at all, but it was better than anything I would have thought of," says Wood. "On the other hand, he ran with with any weird idea I threw at him."

Choate lit four of of Karen Stokes evening length productions. "I loved so many things about working with him, it's hard to know where to begin. His artistry is at the top," says Stokes. "He had the rare ability to create dramatic lighting effects that highlighted the choreography in completely collaborative and organic fashion. His work was, quite simply, beautiful.  Backstage in tech rehearsals, Jeremy was incredibly fast, efficient, and technically skilled. He could do everything and he could do it exceedingly well and at hyper drive speed. Even though he could work fast, he projected a calm and easy demeanor."

Choate was also a prolfic designer for theater, designing numerous shows for Stages Repertory Theatre, Horse Head Theatre Company. I will never forget how he totally transformed the Brewery Tap for Horse Head production of Fault Lines, and how he made an already scary place underneath the Brewery Tap even scarier for Among the Thugs. He transferred many of his dynamic leanings into theater making, for a truly visceral experience.

His work in the Stages production of Will Eno's Oh! The Humanity stands out for Kenn McLaughlin. "The design that was as daring and unexpected as it was simple he used almost all natural lighting," says McLaughlin. "He was the most relaxed of our artists, but also one of the most driven to excellence. He knew what he wanted with a confidence that was palpable but he never let his own ego get in the way of a collaboration."

Christina Giannelli, Houston Ballet's former resident designer worked side by side with Choate for most of his time in Houston. "I respected him enormously both as a fellow designer and as a human being," she says. "He had a gift for connection. If everyone could bring themselves as fully to their work and their interactions with other people as Jeremy did, the world would be better for it."

Jeremy, we were all honored to stand in your light.