The company has an intense schedule - touring eight months a year, two to three of which are overseas - more overseas than any other modern dance company. Over its 44-year history, the company has performed in 48 American states and 67 countries worldwide. "We are constantly moving," says Al Crawford, lighting director for the company. "This year is big internationally, including Spain, Germany, Austria, England and Italy." The lighting equipment that Ailey uses must be ultra-durable, reliable and flexible. What they can’t bring with them, they count on getting locally and that means lighting products with global availability and prestige.
"There is traditionally very little scenery in these productions," Crawford explains, "so we put a lot of energy and investment into the lighting, to insure it’s consistent wherever we go in the world - from Kansas City to Tokyo."
A major concern with such a lighting-intense repertory is flexibility - making it possible for designers to do whatever they wish artistically. Chenault Spence, a pioneer in dance lighting and designer of more than 60 ballets in the repertory, has seen the lighting tools develop since he began working with Ailey in 1970. "ETC controls have allowed me to design what I can imagine, not merely what is already possible," remarks Spence.
Ailey is a big production. When travelling domestically, it counts 31 dancers, 15 production staff, 10 tons of equipment - extensive for dance - and three semi-trucks. The total lighting package approximates 400 fixtures, most of which are from the ETC Source Four range. Ailey’s lighting staff is a four-person team. Crawford works with head electrician Christopher Kurtz, assistant electrician Heath Hurwitz and assistant lighting director Zakaria Al-Alami. According to Kurtz: "Every ellipsoidal and individual Par used on the eight electrics, eight boom towers and dozens of rover units run on ETC Sensor dimming. On top of that, we are still capable of controlling the front-of-house units provided by the venue whenever DMX control is not available. There is also a space consideration backstage," Kurtz adds. "The ETC Sensor dimmers take up a smaller backstage footprint."