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Out of the Ordinary

Back to Issue | October 2020

Lighting Design for Dance during COVID Times

The world is going through an unprecedented time. The Covid Pandemic has changed our worlds. And one of the most affected communities has been the performance arts community. The dance community in India is no different.  And one question that everyone is struggling with is – how do we continue to create dance performances during these challenging times. A very obvious option is the online platform. But that in itself is a challenge because it is a  new medium for us. And like anything else it needs a little getting used to….  but you can get there. It is a skill that you can learn… just like driving a car.  

As a lighting designer I have been getting a lot of enquiries about what kind of lights can be used from household items which can help us light our dance videos better. Although I do understand that this question is very valid, I am not sure that it’s answer will be enough to help the dancers make effective videos, because before figuring out what light to use, we need to first have clarity on what effect would we like to achieve with it. This would depend on the theme and the concept of your video.  

For example, let’s say the concept is to do with anger and frustration (Raudra rasa). The dancer needs to look intense, aggressive or larger than life. In this case we could project lights from the floor. This would also create bold shadows at the back which might add to the effect. The colour of the light  could be red which can accentuate the theme. Now, once we have this information then we can execute it in multiple ways. We could use a study lamp on the floor pointing upwards, with a red cellophane paper taped to it.  Or instead of the table lamp, we could use a tube light on the floor wrapped in the red cellophane paper.  

Another example – let’s say the theme is around romance and love (Shinghar rasa). The lights need to be soft and subtle. In this case, we could use the lights from the same height as the dancer. Again, we could use a lamp shade to get this effect. It needs to be soft so we could use maybe a sheet of butter paper in the front of the light. We could also use candle lights to bring about the same effect. The colour could be a warmer tone like amber. You can purchase cellophane paper in various colours from your local stationery shop. You could also use fairy lights to bring about the same effect.  

Making DIY light sources from household items is not the challenge. One can always google it and read a lot of information on it. But to have clarity as to what you really want to say and therefore what effect would you like to have is the tricky bit.  

This also triggers a whole new conversation – as performance creators how do we build this muscle of knowing which lighting effect creates what kind of mood in a scene? For this, I would suggest an exercise. Every week select 5  images that attract your attention. These images can be gleaned from the internet, or from magazines or even an image you see in person and can take a  photo of it on your phones. After doing this, go through each image and  observe the following 

  1. Why were you attracted to this image? 
  2. What is the underlying mood or theme that you see in this image?
  3. What emotions is it triggering within you? 
  4. Observe what’s the nature of the light in it. Which direction is it coming from? What colour is it? What’s the quality of light – soft or hard? 

As dancers/choreographers we need to have an understanding of how lighting affects us emotionally. And if you keep practising the above exercise you would unconsciously start thinking of lighting ideas while you are choreographing your new dance piece.

Gyandev Singh

Gyandev Singh is a Chandigarh-based lighting designer and visual artist. After completing his Masters in Stage Design from the National School of Drama, for over 10 years, Gyandev has worked as a lighting designer with various senior dancers including Akram Khan, Aditi Mangaldas, Malavika Sarukkai, and Kumudini Lakhia. He has also designed lights for theatre productions and worked with directors like M K Raina, Dadi Pudumjee, Anuradha Kapur, Abhilash Pillai and Roysten Abel. Recipient of the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar, Gyandev has toured across the world, as lighting designer for theatre and dance productions. Follow on Instagram @gyandev

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