historical lighting

Stephan Silver (silver@connect-2.co.uk)
Sun, 29 Aug 1999 11:02:11 +0100

dear Jeff,

Not to give you a full history of the way lighting affected dance, but a
brief synopsis of investigations taking place around one hundred years ago
might be of interest to you. Like all the other arts, gas and
electrification greatly affected the incorporation of light in the
presentation of dance.

There is an amazing article covering this topic in Ballet Tanz International
(English Edition), Issue 8/9, Aug. 1997, by Arnd Wesemann, "Mirror Games
with the New Media: The Story of Dance has Always Been the Story of

Loie Fuller was one of the first dance artists to incorporate technological
wonders within her shows. She discovered and played with different lighting
techniques and materials, altering her presence and illusion on the stage.

Further references to Loie Fuller can be found in: "Time and the Dancing
Image" by Deborah Jowitt, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los
Angeles, 1988,
and "Loie Fuller: Goddess of Light", by Richard Nelson Current and Marcia
Ewing Current, Northeastern University Press, Boston, 1997.

The works of cinematography being developed by Etienne-Jules Marey in France
and later with the studies of Eadweard Muybridge were capturing movement of
people, animals, etc. (The early precedent to film.) It's amazing how the
first examples of film were based on movement, and not the facial
expressions and later spoken word that that is usually implied with modern

Various stage design reforms were developed with the intent of being the new
stage environments for performers. Dance was definitely at the forefront of
these design theories. Adolphe Appia in Switzerland and Edward Gordon
Craig, England were both developping (around the same time) their own
theories about lighting and the presence of the performer on the stage.

I hope you have a look at some of these articles. Enjoy.


>From: Jeff Miller <giullare@satorimedia.com>
>To: dance-tech@lists.acs.ohio-state.edu
>Subject: Re: undemanding, unambitious, uninformed and uninspired
>Date: Fri, Aug 27, 1999, 4:35 pm

> I have a question for the dance-historians among us:
> Is there a record of the ways in which dance changed (if any) with the advent
> of electrical lighting? Aside from time of performance, that is--did the
> ability to have, for example, a spotlight focusing attention, or the upstage
> area well-lit change the way choreographers made dances? I've had a bit of
> theory in the dramatic theatre on this subject, but dance wasn't addressed...
> The reason I ask is because I was thinking of the way the advent of the
> motion picture changed the skills of the actor. It's well known that the
> large emotive movements of the melodrama were eventually seen to be
> unsuitable for the screen--unless one was being purposely grotesque. This
> change, rather than limiting the actor, actually expanded the canvas
> available for expression--suddenly subtlety was a useful tool, in facial
> expressions, breath, etc. Some foresaw the "end" of the stage play--but that
> didn't quite happen. If the human mind has an absolute capacity for artistic
> forms (and sometimes I wish it did!) we seem to be far from it.
> I wonder if the same thing is happening in dance, though. I recall one of
> the first "Dances for the Camera" I saw, or rather I don't, since the name
> escapes me. However, the basic idea was the same movement phrase captured in
> (I believe) 9 different styles on the camera--sometimes showing full body,
> sometimes the face, sometimes focusing on the tendon of the forearm in
> extension--a line as beautiful as any I've seen in dance. This use of the
> technology enabled the audience--the vastly expanded audience--to see the
> choreography and the dancer in ways not possible in a traditional, proscenium
> space. Why is this wrong, or a threat to the dance world?
> Part of my frustration with this thread is the lack of acknowledgement of the
> amount of technology used in "non-tech" dance. Source 4's, lighting boards,
> compact disc players, portable stereos, all are accepted as tools of the
> trade...but suddenly the video camera and the projector and the computer is
> seen as a threat. To me, saying that a dance for the camera isn't dance is
> akin to saying that a CD of Mozart's Requiem isn't music. It's different in
> terms of convenience, and yes, sometimes in terms of quality.
> The times, they are a-changin'...but when aren't they?
> Jeff