Step into a world of enchantment and magic as Orlando Ballet unveils its eagerly anticipated new Nutcracker production. Ahead of the grand performance, we had the privilege of delving into the artistic vision with Joseph Walls, the brilliant mind behind the mesmerizing lighting design. Joseph, alongside fellow lighting designer Matt Taylor, shared insights into the meticulous process of crafting the perfect lighting elements that will enhance Jorden Morris’s choreography and complement the scenic marvels by Robert Perdziola. Join us for an exclusive preview, offering a glimpse into the intricate artistry and innovation that will soon bring this magical tale to life on stage.
How did you approach the lighting design for the new Nutcracker production, and what unique elements did you incorporate to complement Jorden Morris’s new choreography and sets?
For this project, I’m working alongside fellow lighting designer Matt Taylor. We spent a long time in conversation with Jorden, discussing the story, creative ideas, emotional responses to different scenes, and ways in which we could use different or new lighting technology to enhance the story and create a magical experience for the audience. We also spoke with scenic and costume designer Robert Perdziola, so we could ensure a cohesive production between the lighting, costumes, and scenery. It is always important to start our conversations as early as possible for our collaborative process to ensure that the lighting is not an afterthought. Robert, Matt, and I would brainstorm ways in which we could hide light within the set pieces. The result is lighting that enhances the world established on stage, creating depth and dimension in scenes, and creating a magical space that allows Drosselmeyer to transform the stage from a 19th-century German home into a magical dreamlike land.
The Nutcracker is known for its magical and enchanting atmosphere. How did you use lighting to enhance the storytelling and evoke emotions during the performance?
Lighting designers often design and control the atmospheric effects used in a production. Collaborating with Jorden, Matt and I set out to find new ways in which fog and haze could aid in the storytelling. Haze allows the audience to see the beams, the shape, and the color of the light in the air. The use of low fog fills the stage floor and gives the world a dreamlike feel of dancing on clouds. We also use these atmospheric effects to help cover some of the transitions from one scene or world to the next. Additionally, we planned times to use darkness, instead of light to allow dramatic reveals of characters and surprises of new scenic elements. Lighting from uncommon angles gives a new feel to characters at times, such as the mouse in the battle scene who is lit from below, or the way in which we use light to help Clara appear weightless as she flies across the clouds. The collaborative nature of my relationships with Matt Taylor, lighting programmer Bridget Chervenka, and Jorden Morris allowed us to work together to ensure that the lighting complemented the overall vision of the production and added layers that highlighted the choreography. It truly takes a village. The research and implementation of choices wouldn’t have been possible without assistant lighting designer Abi Farnsworth and studio assistant Harrison Hoffert. They spent hours researching and assisting in the selection of new, specific lighting fixtures that offer various features to enhance and support the story. Orlando Ballet’s production team, which includes Director of Production John Beaulieu, Production Electrician Lizz Pittsley, and Head Electrician Mike Boyle, is also involved with the planning and ultimate execution of the lighting design, making sure the magical worlds developed on stage are functioning properly and providing a truly magical experience for audiences of all ages.
Lighting technology has evolved significantly over the years. Can you share some of the latest advancements in lighting equipment and techniques that you used for the Orlando Ballet’s new Nutcracker production, and how they contributed to enhancing the overall visual experience for the audience?
We knew going into this production that we would need to add lighting to different scenic pieces to bring them to life, allow for magical moments, and create smooth transitions from one world into the next. Collaborating with Robert, we first discussed the anticipated size of each scenic element and the space available within different pieces for lighting elements. Once we established what we would need and the space available, we reached out to Tasmin Higgins and Robin Barton from Lamp and Pencil Ltd in England. They have created lighting elements for large-scale productions such as Moulin Rouge, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Frozen, and Phantom of the Opera, to name a few. They quickly took the very long list of ideas that Matt and I developed for The Nutcracker and went to work. Based on our specifications, the Lamp and Pencil team suggested a full package of elements that we could light up within the set, which includes the use of RC4 Wireless control technology that allowed us to light the scenic elements without unsightly cables. This creates quicker transitions and allows for wireless control of different elements, such as the staircase, fireplace, and tree. Our transition back into the house at the end of the ballet would otherwise be clunky with cables dragging behind each scenic element. Some of the other elements from Lamp and Pencil we designed into the show are high brightness LED Tape, which has 240 LED RGB emitters per meter and roughly 1500 LED pixels in the small and large Christmas tree, and roughly 600 fiber pixel points that are used in the various scenic pieces. This all adds up to about 100,000 individual light-emitting diodes (LEDs) built into the set, resulting in the creation of dazzling effects from the stage.
The Nutcracker features a wide range of scenes, each with its unique mood and atmosphere. How do you leverage different lighting fixtures, such as spotlights, LED fixtures, and gobos, to achieve diverse visual effects that complement the narrative and choreography?
We knew we were up against a challenge with the height required to ensure that the lighting fixtures over the set were not visible to the audience while still lighting the stage properly. A stagehand would not be able to reach the height safely to focus conventional fixtures and also be able to focus the large number of fixtures that would be required in time to assemble the scenery. I reached out to Patrick Bellino from Main Light to discuss options for renting moving lights. Patrick understood the challenge and went above and beyond to help ensure our production would have what we needed to achieve our goals. Working closely with Main Light, we created a rig of lighting that gave us a wide range of effects, gobo options (lighting tool that lets us control lighting shapes and shadows), color, and, most importantly, intensity control. Patrick from Main Light secured the purchase of Robe’s brand-new footsie lighting fixture, giving us the opportunity to include this fixture as part of the lighting design. The low profile, tunable white lighting fixture allows us to have high intensity and warm and cool tones of light in the production. The low profile footlights across the front of the stage do not block any part of the dancer’s body from the audience’s view, which has been a challenge in previous productions with other, larger products. In addition to the Robe’s Footsie, we built a design encompassing some of the most technologically advanced lighting equipment, including 55 ETC’s Source Four Series Three LED Fixtures, 24 Desire LED Fresnels, 18 LED Prolights ECLCYC, 28 LED ChromaQ Colorforce II 72” Cyc Fixtures, 2 Chauvet Pro Cloud 9 Low Fog Machines, 2 MDG ATMe Hazers, 10 LED Rosco Miro Cubes, 6 Antari AF-3X Effect Fans, 16 LED Elation Proteus Maximus moving light fixtures, 8 High-End SolaFrame Theatre moving light fixtures, and 25 LED Robe Forte moving light fixtures. Two of the moving light fixtures are outfitted as Robospots, which allows us to position lighting fixtures in a location an operator cannot be at during the performance. They are linked to camera sensors within the lighting fixture, so the stagehand follow spot operator can be in a safe location while controlling the fixture – almost like a video game. Using this over a standard follow spot, gives us the opportunity to control color, shape, size, and shadow effects through the lighting console and provides the best angle of light for a follow spot to light the dancers on this set design and in this venue, the Steinmetz Hall. With this combination of technology, we can paint the darkness of the stage with light, allowing each moment of the ballet to be lit in a way that enhances the narrative and choreography. Using the array of lighting design palette tools available, we design each scene to effectively manipulate the mood and atmosphere, allowing for a more immersive and dynamic experience for the audience.
Lighting design plays a crucial role in setting the tone and atmosphere of a ballet. Can you describe how you adapted your design to different scenes in The Nutcracker, such as the magical Land of Sweets or the intense Battle of the Mice and Toy Soldiers?
Matt and I start out by creating lighting concepts for the various scenes. Each scene is mapped out within the design, so we can make sure we select the right lights, angles, and times for drawing focus to the storytelling that is happening within Jorden’s choreography. Once we highlight and direct the audience’s focus toward the action, we then paint the world around the dancers using light, shadow, color, texture, and lighting intensities. We then look to the choreography and music to find movements where the lighting should change and transform with the action on stage. These tools, when used together, allow us to complete the transformation of the set and costumes into the world presented in each scene. It was extremely critical to Jorden’s concept that we transition between realism and foreboding, dreamlike, and magical sensations that are mapped out in Tchaikovsky’s score. The lighting design has over 35 universes of lighting control channels (or 15,360 individual controllable elements of light), allowing each scene to have very specific choices and elements that differ from the last. The design can feel enchanting in a scene, creating wonder and a fantastical, dreamlike world while at the same time highlighting the focus on the dancer(s) and drawing attention to their graceful movements. In the next scene, the lighting will transition in intensity and color to build tension and action, creating a sense of conflict and drama in the battle scene. Using the lighting design, we can accentuate the dancers’ movements and create stunning tableaus. It is a true collaboration involving close communication of all members of the production and design team. Matt and I feel fortunate to be collaborating with our long-time colleague and lighting programmer Bridget Chervenka, who can quickly determine the calculations needed to input the needed code for the lighting console, turning our design specifications and vision into reality on stage.
As we anticipate the curtain rising on Orlando Ballet’s highly anticipated rendition of The Nutcracker, the stage is set aglow with the promise of a spectacular production. Thanks to the tireless dedication and ingenious creativity of Joseph Walls, Matt Taylor, and their collaborative team, the lighting design promises to illuminate the narrative, evoking emotions and guiding us through a mesmerizing journey. The fusion of cutting-edge lighting technology, masterful storytelling, and the magic of the holiday season is set to bring this timeless tale to life in a way that will resonate in the hearts of audiences for years to come. Orlando Ballet’s The Nutcracker stands as a testament to the power of creativity, collaboration, and the art of illumination in the world of ballet, promising an unforgettable experience for all who witness this magical performance.
December 8-24, 2023 | GET TICKETS