Video by the Guthrie Theater




March 5, 2004

Karole Armitage's ''Time Is the Echo of an Axe Within a Wood,'' a world premiere performed at the Joyce Theater on Tuesday night, is one of the most beautiful dances to be seen in New York in a very long time.

Ms. Armitage's three inspired collaborators -- David Salle, the set designer; Peter Speliopoulous, who created the metallic leotards; and most of all Clifton Taylor, who designed the fluid, exquisitely subtle lighting -- could all rest on their laurels after this.

The hourlong piece, performed by Armitage Gone! Dance of New York, unspools in a shimmer of dull copper and softly gleaming silver and gold that is contained by delicate bead curtains at the sides and back and pricked with tiny copper stars. The curtains create an intimate enclave for dance that simultaneously seems to inhabit a much larger universe.

Opera News

The Cunning Little Vixen

By JOSHUA ROSENBLUM  June 28, 2011

... Director/designer Fitch, in conjunction with his co-designer G.W. Mercier, has created a transportingstage backdrop of giant sunflowers, as well as some floor-to-ceiling strips of fabric, representing treetrunks. Clifton Taylor's versatile and evocative lighting completed the pastoral effect. (Fitch designed the costumes, too.) Gilbert's musical command of the proceedings was passionately committed andtechnically impeccable. Fitch and producer Edouard Getaz, who comprise the group Giants Are Small,also created the universally lauded Le Grand Macabre for the Philharmonic last season; one can only hope for repeated return engagements from this team.




BY VALERIE GLADSTONE, November 28, 2006


 Pencil poised over his notebook, lighting designer Clifton Taylor watched intently from the side of a studio as choreographer Karole Armitage leapt into the air, then twisted around to face the opposite direction. "That's what I want," she said to the 10 dancers scattered about the studio learning the piece, "the feeling that you're boxing."

Ms. Armitage was rehearsing her new work "Gamelan Gardens" at the headquarters of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in midtown a few weeks ago, in preparation for the work's world premiere December 1, during the company's upcoming season at City Center. The work, set to Lou Harrison's atmospheric "Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan," is Ms. Armitage's first dance for the company and Mr. Taylor, a 43-year-old jovial-looking man with sandy-colored hair and glasses, was there to find out how to light it most effectively.  "I come to rehearsals," he said later, "to listen to what Karole says to the dancers. It's during this process that I find out what's important to her or to any choreographer. Knowing how she directs them helps me do my work, such as where she puts her emphasis, and even the terms she uses. Choreographers and dancers speak a special language when they're working together. That's what I have to overhear to do my job."

 "Clifton intuitively knows how to create a look," Ms. Armitage said. "He understands that lighting shouldn't be tied to the dance. It should be like weather. This work is very lyrical, with two of the three movements to gamelan music, which is gentle and percussive, with a sort of rippling energy.

I want the feeling that the dancers are pushing against the air or under water."  "Gamelan Gardens" is not the first collaboration between Mr. Taylor and Ms. Armitage. They met in 1998 when Ms. Armitage asked Mr. Taylor to light a ballet for the company she was directing in Florence, Italy. Ms. Armitage then used Mr. Taylor's talents for her the first engagement of her company Armitage Gone Dance at the Joyce Theater in 2004. She plans to work with him again on her company's next season there, which begins February 6.

Few lighting designers today match Mr. Taylor's sensitivity to dance, as evidenced by his lengthy list of former clients: He has worked for American Ballet Theater, the San Francisco Ballet, Philadanco, Ballet Hispanco, and troupes in South America, Europe, and Asia, as well as for major arts festivals, including the City Center's Fall for Dance and Flamenco Festival USA. And he lights for theater too. Last year, he won the Lortel nomination — awarded to off-Broadway shows — for the play "Frozen," and this year he has been nominated for his work on the Broadway plays,"Jay Johnson: The Two and Only!" and "Hot Feet." He also creates lighting for opera companies, including the New York City Opera.

From the time he was growing up outside of Chicago, he loved theater, starting early in the field by assisting a magician with props when he was 15. After a brief period at Knox College in Illinois, where he was on a math scholarship, he transferred to New York University, where he earned his BFA in theater in 1986. "I just had an affinity for lighting," he said. "I think it has to do with my love of music. I'm a cellist. For me, doing lighting is another way of making music.  For "Gamelan Gardens," Mr. Taylor understood that Ms. Armitage wanted to duplicate a stream of consciousness by choreographing fluid, seemingly unstructured movements. "In Karole's ballet,"he said "there's an unfolding, a metamorphosis as the main couple progresses through the three sections. The music is very important. I felt that green matched the Eastern sound of the gamelan, and I use a bluish-green throughout, with the shade becoming bluer in the second section, where the piece is orchestrated for Western instruments. I'm way into colored light," he said.

After he makes the lighting decisions, Mr. Taylor creates a lighting plot, a technical drawing showing where each light is to be placed in the theater. The lighting plot also clarifies how each light should be controlled and contains information about the lens type, such as the color, type of lamp, and whether it requires accessories to shape or manipulate its beam of light. The lighting plot for Alvin Ailey's run at City Center contains roughly 400 focusable lights.

There is no way, however, for Mr. Taylor really to know what his design will look like until the first technical rehearsal, which sometimes takes place only a few of hours before the first performance. The high cost to the company of being in the theater necessitates brief, lastminute tech time. "It's extremely nerve racking," Mr. Taylor admitted, "because at that point, there's not too much you can do to correct anything." But that is Mr. Taylor's only complaint. "If you're a lighting designer, dance is the place to be," Mr. Taylor said."It's the freest place in theater because there are no rules. In theater, it's necessary to see the actors' faces. That's where the content is. In dance, you're free to express many things about the environment … I love them all," he said of the art forms in which he has worked. "But the greatest privilege is lighting dance.”

Berkshire Living

Freud’s Last Session

By LESLEY ANN BECK  June 1, 2009
It is 1939, and Sigmund Freud, having fled the Nazis, is living and working in London. Suffering from terminal cancer, contemplating the end of his life, Freud, an atheist, invites Christian theologian and professor C.S. Lewis to his study for a conversation about the existence of God. This is the fascinating premise behind Mark St. Germain’s new play, Freud’s Last Session.

One of the most successful aspects of this well-crafted production is that between the script, direction, and performances, these two iconic figures are rendered real, human, and accessible. News from the BBC on the radio reminds us that WWII is about to begin, and the approaching conflict is very much a part of the dramatic structure of the play; it is, in fact, what creates common ground for the characters at one point, as the reality of war intrudes.

Tyler Marchant has his actors using every square foot of the single set, Freud’s London study, decorated to look like his office in Vienna, with book-lined walls and statues of ancient gods and mythical figures atop the desk. Set designer Brian Prather has recreated the space, including the famous couch, and lighting designer Clifton Taylor has given us the English morning light pouring in through the large window, visually anchoring an excellent production that allows us, the audience, the pleasure of spending time with two extraordinary figures of the twentieth century.

Projection, Lights and Staging News (PLSN)

Clifton Taylor and the Fall for Dance Festival

By TUCE YASAK, April 12, 2011

Clifton Taylor Provides a Multi-Purpose Lighting Rig for LDs at New York's Fall for Dance Festival

PLSN: In your opinion, what is the basic difference between a lighting designer and a lighting director? You have both of these titles.

Clifton Taylor: The lighting designer is the person who conceives of the lighting, works with the choreographer and comes up with the conceptual basis for the lighting choices. The lighting director is the person who works for the company, and it is her job to recreate the lighting wherever the company performs.

I am the lighting designer in some companies. If the company is doing a short tour to Europe, or a new piece is premiering out of New York, then I go with them as the lighting director, but I am also the lighting designer of the pieces in those cases.

PLSN: You have been the lighting director for the Fall for Dance festival at New York City Center for seven years...What makes this festival special?

In the current setup, we present four companies who usually have very strong differences between them, varying from tap dance to classical ballet, from Flamenco to hip hop, in one program. In this sense, this festival is not like any other festival that is happening in New York at this time. The Fall for Dance festival model is based on an independent summer dance festival that had happened at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park in 1970s. After that dance festival, the idea of presenting many dance companies in one program fell out of favor, because it is very expensive to bring four companies in to perform for one night. Delacorte Festival was free for public. The Fall for Dance festival charges $10 a ticket. The ticket price does not really cover the costs of the festival. There is a lot of corporate and personal underwriting for the festival. However, it is extremely popular, and when the Fall for Dance tickets go on sale, it sells out in less then one day, and people stay up all night in the line, going around an entire city block. It is very exciting to see that much enthusiasm for dance. I think the public has really responded and enjoyed this form where you see a sample of every company.

Can you talk about your variable job descriptions under the title of the lighting designer in this festival?

In the Fall for Dance festival, my job definition changes with every other company that comes to the festival. Some companies know exactly what they want, and they bring their own lighting director or lighting designer. In that case, my job is to help that person put the company's work into the light plot that we have for the festival. Even though my title is the lighting director, I am also called to be the lighting designer on this festival. Sometimes, the choreographer tells what he needs, and we try to create a solution. In these cases, mostly I am not credited as the lighting designer, because it happens very quickly. Also, there have been many times when a company that I originally designed the lighting for was in the festival, or I am sometimes hired by the choreographer as the lighting designer for the piece that is going to be performed in the festival. So, in these cases, I have been the actual lighting designer who is credited.

How do you support the visiting lighting directors and designers?

We have a complex setup for the festival with a lot of moving lights. We have a technology that most dancing companies do not have access to. We do not want to expose this technology unless it is called for in the piece. So, sometimes I have to provide larger guidance to the visiting lighting director about how to use everything we have in a very subtle way. We often get pieces that are created for smaller spaces. So there is the challenge of scaling the pieces up to this 2,700-seat theater. In those cases, lighting often is very different than what it looked like in a downtown space. I try to help the visiting lighting director to maintain the conceptual framework while scaling up the original design, even though different lights are needed.

If you were to compare this festival to the other festivals technically, especially in terms of equipment and light plot, what would you say?

Based on my experience of touring with the companies, if we are called to a festival that many companies perform in a quick succession or together in one program, there would always be restrictions on us about lighting. For instance, there might be only one blue backlighting system for all the companies in the festival. We might need to focus some specials for the piece, but the plot might be very limited, and we might need to cut those specials.

When we embarked on for Fall for Dance festival, and the theater invited me to be the lighting director, one thing we talked about a lot was that every company should be presented in this festival in New York City Center as if it was their own home season. So we have done whatever we can to say yes and to answer the companies' needs for seven years. We hung some companies' specific light plots. We put up huge sets - like a full trampoline set for Elizabeth Streb in 2004 - and we pulled down these sets during a pause. We put up trapeze rigs; took away all the masking. We want the audience to see the real vision of the companies. So to accomplish this, the light plot is necessarily large. We have nearly 40 moving lights and nearly 60 scrollers on various kinds of units so that we can do a lot of color changing and different focusing. If the moving lights cannot cover what the company needs for special focuses, we hang additional lights wherever they are needed. For instance, this year, for one 10-minute solo by Emanuel Gat, we hang 37 lights. In the past, we rented 10K lights or different kinds of moving lights like Martin 2Ks when somebody needed them for specific reasons.

Russell Maliphant Company did a beautiful piece in the festival this year. Lighting for the piece was done with a 20,000-lumen projector hung facing straight down over the stage, and everything else was taken away. The projection was timed to the dancer, who followed the projection. We rented the Catalyst system and the projector for this piece.

Sometimes, though, I may need to talk to the visiting lighting director about making changes or using a light that we have. Usually that decision is more based on lack of free space in the air than inability to get the light. Our biggest restriction is space, because the stage has limited amount of space; and time, because we do not want the pauses between pieces to be too long. This year, I only asked one company - Dresden Semperoper Ballet - to change their needs. What the audience had seen is what they would have seen in Europe where the piece has premiered. We accomplished lighting probably in a different way than how they accomplished it there, and the artistic directors were really happy with the result.


Does the plot of the festival turn into an opportunity for the dance companies to enhance the lighting design oftheir pieces?

Many people ask me for the track sheets that they create at the festival. I think it becomes the new standard for the piece, or how to make a piece in a proscenium stage. The choreographers have been able to see their work in a different way. Lighting is a big part of this difference in addition to being in such a large theater and looking at the stage from a distance.

In the last seven years, you have hosted more than 100 companies. The festival organization and the companies are obviously very lucky to have you as the lighting director. What has the position done for you personally and professionally over the years?

My favorite part of this job is meeting people from other places and to figure out how they think and why they make the choices that they make. I am often struggling with myself about how much to step in and say "Okay, I can do this," or to step back and let people make choices that are often very surprising and, in the end, really wonderful. So it is a really fine line where I walk around finding the right place to help without causing any harm. During techs, I try to be quite conscious about being present and open to the possibility of a new lighting idea and creating space for it to happen.

The ability to travel around the world, which is one of the best parts of my career, helped a lot about what I do for the Fall for Dance. I have taught master classes in Indonesia and Cambodia. I have been working on a theater in Chile for five years. These experiences out of the U.S. come together for this festival. For instance, when a company whose first language is not English comes, even if I cannot speak their language, I can drop into a clipped version of English, cutting lots of words to make the meaning clearer. My assistants, who heard me saying to the visiting lighting director, "Come out far with me, we will make memories now," were making fun of me the other day. Though, in many places that I have been to, I have learnt that they use "making memories" instead of recording cues.

Finally, could you please tell us about the team behind Fall for Dance? How do you share this heavy workload?

There is an incredible team of people who put the festival together. I have two assistants: Nicholas Houfek and Kate Ashton. I have one of them at the table with me and the visiting lighting director, designer or choreographer; they help us with entering the data to the board or do focuses while we are working on the cues. My other assistant is at backstage, because we do lots of work during intermissions and pauses. Sometimes we refocus all the boom lights in a very short amount of time, depending on companies' needs. My assistants are managing these changes with the crew. They switch every night and take each other's place. There is also an amazing stage management staff: Lori Wekselblatt is the production stage manager, Michael Zaleski is the stage manager, Lauren Kurinskas and Carly Price are assistant stage managers. Most of the people in the crew at New York City Center are experienced in dance; their heart is in dance. All the principal people in the crew have toured with a dance company in some part of their lives. So when the companies come into the house, no matter where they are from, they feel as if they are home, because they are welcomed as dance colleagues. And this is one of the facts that make the Fall for Dance festival possible.