Manchester-based lighting design and rental company DBN is often involved in interesting and esoteric arts-based projects, but particularly during the Manchester International Festival (MIF).
This was the case when Stephen Page was invited by MIF to illuminate a unique performance by virtuoso Russian-born violinist Alina Ibragimova in collaboration with filmmakers and animators, The Brothers Quay. It was staged in and around the library of the historic Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester.
The atmospheric promenade performance for 100 people each evening introduced them to several different magical locations in the heart of Chetham's 600 year old centre of learning, where Ibragimova performed four different solo violin pieces by Berio, Bach, Biber and Bartók.
In the Baronial Hall - the final performance space - a specially commissioned stop-motion-animation film by The Brothers Quay accompanied her playing.
Creatively lighting the work was extremely challenging, as this new and completely one-off imaginative context united the mediums of live music and moving images in a different dimension.
Apart from the very intricate visuality and aesthetics needed to complement the violin and film, there were none of the conveniences of a conventional venue like rigging and flying points and plenty of power. Page used nearly 100 Par16 'Birdies' for the project, and a range of ETC Source4 lanterns. In addition, lengths of VS Opto LED strip were rigged around an ancient door suspended within the library, giving it the appearance of floating.
Birdies were hidden all around the spaces to highlight the architecture of the buildings, wherever they could be fitted - on the floor, in corners, on windowsills, bookcases, under tables, etc.. The small dimensions of the fixtures made them ideal for being ensconced into every nook and cranny that presented itself. The wiring had to be completely invisible to the audience and great diligence was needed to ensure that the building was not touched or harmed during the installation process.
"The lighting played a vital element in creating the setting and in engaging the audience to become immersed in the intimacy and power of the performance," said Page. "The show was a combination of being incredibly close to one of the world’s leading violinists for a recital of beautiful and challenging music, accompanied by abstracted, provocative images that interacted with the historic setting to create a truly unique event.”
He added that it was "great fun and truly inspirational" to work with the Brothers Quay as the lighting director for the piece. Taking the lead from their incredibly intricate film and the different performance spaces within the library, Page used light sparingly to create shadow and contrast across the face and body of Ibragimova and her violin, as well as picking out specific elements of the architecture, sometimes in reflected light and relief.
The lighting for the main performance areas was controlled from an ETC Smartfade. It obviously had the desired effect, with Ivan Hewett commenting in his show review for The Telegraph: "The various interconnecting spaces were lit in ways to baffle our sense of space.”
To further engineer the atmospherics, Page commissioned 30 paraffin flame pots, which were placed outside the buildings, to produce rich orange guttering flames, further adding to the atmosphere, casting shadows through the windows of the buildings and guiding the audience to and from the performance spaces.