Last week I caught the stunning dance Chroma at the San Francisco Ballet. Choreographed by Wayne McGregor with a set designed by the famed British minimalist architect John Pawson, Chroma is enjoying its second run in San Francisco and is on until February 25th. I had a chat with the S.F. Ballet's technical director Christopher Dennis about Pawson's work and the surprising chromatic variation the production—surprising because nearly everything is white or flesh toned—achieved through the lighting design, set, and costumes.
Chroma debuted in 2006 with the Royal Ballet in London. Is the same set that Pawson designed up in San Francisco?
No. The original set was created in London and what we have is the North American touring version. Last year when we put on Chroma we had a touring version that left out an architectural piece that made it easier to tour, but is different from the Pawson design. What we've got now restores a sloping curvature of the walls that the first traveling version didn't have. This one we have now is rented from the National Ballet of Canada in Toronto who built the set as a kind of North American touring set. And it's got the sloped walls, which Pawson was happy about.
The set itself looks like a big white box with a black void at the back. What's it made of?
It's constructed out of wood and the walls are stretched canvas. The canvas is treated and painted and then stretched taut around the wooden frames. Then there's a two-step riser with a built-in fluorescent light at the back that dancers step through to enter.
Pawson is famously minimalist in his architecture, so a piece called Chroma made me wonder just how colorful this lover of white might actually get. The answer is not very.
Well, this set and this dance are a play with white. The color of the walls and floor are slightly off so the floor is white and the walls are kind of eggshell. So I wouldn't say that this set is rich in color, but it does have such a play with white as its essence. You get a palette that's got all kinds of gradations of white and much of that is done using lighting as well. You can mix together different kinds of lighting to activate different shades of white.
And the dancer's costumes were awfully minimal as well. Almost like the leotards were meant to mimic their own flesh.
The costumes were geared toward the skin tones of the company. Each was dyed to reflect if not the exact skin color, then the quality of it. But the costumes, like the different shades of white, allowed a big range of colors all within a small part of the spectrum.