The ballet was staged at Lisbon’s São Carlos Opera House (photo: Yaron Abulafia)

Portugal - Choreographer and contemporary dance innovator Andrew McNicol presented the world premiere of Upstream, his first collaboration with the Companhia Nacional de Bailado (CNB) – the National Ballet of Portugal – for which he asked lighting designer Yaron Abulafia to create scenography and lighting for the performance which was staged at the São Carlos Opera House, Lisbon.

Upstream was presented as part of a trilogy of works, together with Baracco Concerto by the late George Balanchine and Workwithinwork (which originally premiered in 1998) by William Forsythe – three distinctive works from very different eras and generations of choreographers based on classical dance.

Yaron was excited to use the CNB’s 20 x Robe T1 Profile moving lights – the only moving lights on the rig – as the backbone of his lighting design in addition to the large-scale lighting set up in the venue.

Yaron became involved in the piece at the very early conceptual stages of its development which enabled him to weave all the interactive elements together when imagining the production design.

He worked closely with costume designer Helena de Medeiros and composer Peter Gregson who created contemporary minimalist music to frame the piece, which was performed live by soloists from the Chamber Orchestra of Portugal.

When it came to lighting, Yaron wanted to recreate an underwater environment where everything is fluid and the quality of movement is softer, more nuanced, and rounded, engaging reflections and echoes in light and materials or impressions of sunlight filtering through the water and waves, peppering them with light, matching the energy and tempo of the music in abstract and mystical ways.

Upstream’s five movements each featured a different subaquatic setting that was defined with the minimal use of props and primarily by light and movement, transforming these and the overall spatiality and look of the stage.

A heat resistant, semi-transparent plastic foil material backdrop – divided into eight 1.5-metre-wide drops – was the main prop covering the entire upstage area. Powerful vari-speed fans were positioned either side and run at different speeds to create undulating asymmetric movements onto which Yaron projected ripple effects and watery textures both sides.

When lit from behind, it was near translucent, and when not directly lit, it caught reflections like a mirror. “Combined with light it was a fantastic surface to recreate the ephemeral and transient nature of water patterns,” he explained.

Upstage of the backdrop was a black rear lighting / projection screen which when unlit looked like an infinity space and when lit created a contrast with the foil.

During his research for this project, among other things, Yaron was inspired by the vision of deep-sea shipwrecks.

All the key moments of Upstream were highlighted and accentuated with lighting effects and atmospheres created using the T1s.

Supported by a large generic rig in the house, Yaron relied on the subtleties and power of Robe’s dynamic lightsource to deliver a different setting for each movement.

“I so enjoyed how beautifully you can combine the T1’s colour mixing with the conventional halogen and HMI sources,” said Yaron

Yaron used the lighting to evoke themes of solitude and powerlessness, shifting from black-and-white into high impact reflective shimmering effects emanating from the centre of the foil, inviting the men to walk towards the unknown while women remained on the floor downstage for an epic visual ending.

The T1s were used as white high cross lights and key light in these final scenes with all the foil reflections created by multiple overlaid T1s coming from overhead, on the floor – at the front of stage next to orchestra pit – and from the side booms, together with one HMI source.

All the lighting was run through the CNB’s own control console. Yaron worked closely with their technical director Cristina Piedade and head of lighting / programmer, Pedro Mendes, plus the crew at São Carlos Opera House.

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