Susan Hamburger
Lighting Dance...And Dancers
"Choosing colors for dance performances is always an interesting challenge for a lighting designer and this production was no exception. The work shown here is 'Walking with Pearl—The Southern Diaries', and is based on Dr. Pearl Primus' writings about Southern sharecroppers, The other piece is 'Naked City', which references Toni Morrison's book "Jazz" and the 50s TV show of the same title.

"Both pieces were performed by Urban Bush Women, a dance company founded by choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar ‘to create dance and to create community."

"It's interesting designing for a significantly different skin tone than my own. I've learned what colors might look great on the dancers' skin tones even if it doesn't work for my own, but there are no universal rules as to what works or not. The greener-blues, like R76 or R77, would look great on the dancers but would make me look terrible! I find R83, a particularly flattering deep blue gel for the dancers' skin tones. It has become part of the repertory color that I use for Urban Bush Women."

Roscolux Colors Used:

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Roscolux #321

"I wanted the lighting to reflect memories of Pearl Primus' stories, but in a less 'romantic' way. The palette I was working with, for most of the dance, consisted of amber and dusty rose colors. I loved using R321 because it can make everything feel as though you are looking at a sepia photograph. Using R09 and R03 as the key lights on the body with accents of R50 helped recreate the environment we wanted - the dry, dusty feel of parched cotton fields. The R50 combined with the R321 also brought the sense of heat to the skin and the costumes, without looking too pretty as it might on whiter skin."

Roscolux #83

"Primus choreographed this section of the piece, 'Hard Time Blues,' so I wanted to distinguish it from the rest of the dance. It's the only time that the palette has cool/blue colors in it. For this sequence, the blue surround separates it in spirit from the parched landscape of the rest of the dance. R83 is a wonderfully saturated blue that works well in both warm and cool environments. Here the sidelight on the bodies maintains the same warm feel from the rest of the dance, connecting the stories aesthetically to one another."

Roscolux #78

"The dance 'Naked City' follows the arc of six women who come to the city as strangers looking for a better life and then interact with each other, incidentally or intentionally, on its streets. I highlighted the isolation of the dancers in the beginning of the dance by lighting them primarily from the waist up, which enhanced the focus on the emotional expressiveness of their faces and upper bodies and reduced it on their surrounding environment. Their costumes were evening dresses made of black and silver sequins with a touch of blue fabric as an accent. They were fantastic to light! The change in side color, from the more saturated R78 to the cool white of the R360, could make the dresses feel midnight blue or black or silver. The R83 from above brought out the blue highlights in the costumes without overpowering the scene."

Roscolux #360

"As the characters progressed in the dance and began to interact with each other, I opened up the space and focused the light on their whole bodies, using the R362 in the mids and the R360 in the shins more than the heads and blue backlights. The feel of their environment went from a deeper blue, through a cooler, less saturate blue and then transitioned toward a warmer white to enhance the idea of leaving 'where they had been' and progressing to 'where they were going,' a major theme for the characters that each of the dancers portrayed. In 'Naked City' it was surprising how much warmer their skin looked when lit primarily by the R360 in this photo, in contrast to the R78 in the preceding one-often one runs the risk of whiter skin fluorescing when strongly lit by a cool white color such as R360."

All photos by Matthew Wright, Fig Tree Photography

Biography: Susan Hamburger
Susan Hamburger, a New York City-based lighting designer, has worked with numerous dance companies including the Bessie Award-winning Urban Bush Women and Bessie Award winner Nora Chipaumire. Other notable dance companies include Troika Ranch, Blondell Cummings, Urban Tap, Ellis Wood, Alice Farley, Christopher Caines, Susan Chirniak, and Carol Nolte among others. She has also designed "The Abundance Project," "Hamletmachine," "Logic of the Birds," "On The Verge," "A Child's Christmas in Wales," "Little Shop Of Horrors," "Suddenly Last Summer," "The Great Highway," "West Side Story," "The Cryptogram," "Hamlet," "Much Ado About Nothing," "Waiting for Godot," and "Mame," as well as many other original plays and performance pieces. Recent residential/commercial projects include a retail children's clothing store, a physical therapy studio and an extensive remodeling of a Greenwich Village brownstone which can been seen in the book "Majestic Metropolitan Living: Visionary Homes in the Heart of Cities." Other residential/commercial projects include a Soho corporate office, a Tribeca loft, and a pending LEED-certified Vermont home. Susan, a graduate of Yale School of Drama, teaches at New York University and The Juilliard School. Her website is