A few years ago, around 2014, a little after moving to Shanghai, the idea of a lit Choreographed Experience came to me. The concept came into existence after studying how lighting design has the potential to influence our retail experiences. Essentially, through the use of visual cues and lighting accents, the lighting scene can influence what the eye looks at or pays attention to. It also has the potential to continue to guide the eye to the next point of interest. By composing the various visual cues in a hierarchy, we can influence the order in which they are experienced. This adds an extra dimension to the already existing concept of visual cue as it implies the notion of time, that is, one action will happen only after another.
This past weekend, I went to see a dance performance at a local theatre and as I watched, I found myself noticing how the ensemble changed their overall composition throughout the show. The ensemble was constantly playing with its form, switching between symmetry and asymmetry. This was true not only for the overall composition but also for the individual dance choreography.
The shift between symmetric and asymmetric was very intriguing to me. It created a dynamic feel that made me more interested in the performance. The symmetry created a sense of group stability and balance and the asymmetry added an unpredictability that would grab my attention.
After the performance, I decided to look it up and as was expected, the technique of playing between symmetry and asymmetry is well understood in dance. A fair portion of the art of choreography relies on the balance between the two as an excessively symmetric dance will be monotonous while an excessively asymmetric dance is too chaotic causing us to equally lose interest.
I started to wonder if this could be applied to other disciplines and a technique used in music came to mind: syncopation. Syncopation is when the accent of the rhythm falls on an off-beat in an unpredictable way. This unpredictability takes the listener by surprise and gives the music a certain level of suspense, it plays with the expectation of the beat and the anticipation created by the delay of the actual rhythmic accent. This technique is used greatly in modern music and studies have proven that music that uses syncopation moderately are more danceable as the mind fills in the gaps with movement.
Now back to lighting. The Dark Art has many times expressed that lighting has the ability to play with our expectations and desires. What these two examples are telling us is that what we have previously referred to as desire is nothing more than the anticipation of the peak ascent. They tell us that we’re naturally attracted to the play between expectation and anticipation and that this can be achieved by carefully breaking the expected symmetry with just the right touch of asymmetry. I see great potential in these concepts for the lighting design world. Although we cannot oversimplify such principles by trying to directly apply them to lighting, the ability that lighting has to conceal and reveal hints at a potential interpretation of these concepts. I admit that further thought and experiment are necessary but I look forward to experimenting in the near future.
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