How Color Affects Choreographers
August 09, 2016

How Color Affects Choreographers

When you see the color red, what do you think of? Love? Passion? Maybe rage? How about the color blue – how does it make you feel? Or green? White? Colors can inspire emotions and conjure up a certain mood. The combination of color and a visual medium like dance, then, can be a fabulous tool to aid in a choreographer’s message or intent. Choreographers can use color in multiple ways – as a jumping off point of inspiration, for creative lighting to convey a certain feel to the audience, and for costuming for the final touch of their creative expression.

Here, three choreographers share how color affects their process and how they incorporate color to help focus the audience’s emotion and mood.

“Color can be what completes my work or what inspires me,” says Ursula Verduzco, a New York City-based freelance dancer and choreographer. “Color can say so much. It can create a mood or enhance a theme, it can transform a powerful dancer into an unstoppable force or help a soft intention become ethereal.”

Likewise, Sheena Annalise, artistic director of Arch Contemporary Ballet, expresses how color can be very persuasive. “It can be used as an influence to guide your audience into feeling what you want them to feel, or take them to a specific memory or place,” she says. “Color can even help set the tone for the entire work.”

Rather than using color simply as an afterthought, some choreographers are even completely inspired by color from the get-go and let color inform their entire vision.

Annalise, for example, used the color white as the centerpiece for one of her works. “Seasons of White was inspired by the different moods and effects the color can have on one’s mind,” she explains. “It explores purity, the feeling of a vast open space, solemnness and even peace.”

Christopher Liddell, artist in residence at Tampa Ballet Theatre and international ballet and jazz dance teacher, says that his work is usually character-driven and story-based and that color can set a certain mood or even time period.

“I have a piece named The Recessionistas, which was about fashionistas staying fabulous and joyful even during the recession, set to the Gershwin’s “I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’’,” Liddell explains. “The vibrancy of the color and the style of the clothes and accessories set the scene before we even took a step.”

Thus, the use of color in costuming is an efficient way to make a statement. For Annalise’s Seasons of White, the dancers were dressed in all-white costumes with white mesh inserts. For her work Chåteau, a piece that pays homage to French history, the costumes were jewel tones such as red, emerald green, sapphire blue and gold to help transport the audience back to the 1800s.

Verduzco, who calls color in costuming “the cherry on the cake”, recently created a piece in collaboration with a visual artist who created sculptures to be worn on the dancers’ body.

“The sculptures were colorful and strong,” Verduzco says, “so I needed a solid color for the costumes to complement the charged colorful beauty of the sculptures. I chose a certain shade of blue. I was incredibly happy with the outcome, and the choice conveyed strength, happiness, fun and individuality.”

Choreographers can also use color in lighting design as a creative tool to express a mood or emotion to the audience.

Liddell says that lighting is very valuable to him as a theatrical choreographer. “My piece, Mornings with Irving, opens with a silhouette against an orange and red cyc, which represented early morning,” he shares. “There were several dynamic cues in that very short piece, and I remember it having a huge impact on the audience’s reception of the storyline. It served to really elevate the stagecraft as opposed to just lights up and blackout.”

Choreographers are continually inspired – by dancers, other artists, life events, memories, music, paintings, physical surroundings. And color is just another element that can affect a dancemaker's creativity. Color not only adds a splash of vibrancy or is visually pleasing; it can also create an entire mood and experience for the audience. It can become a powerful creative tool.

"I encourage choreographers to educate themselves on lighting, color and costuming, as it often becomes our responsibility," Liddell says. "Use that education to elevate your work beyond the norm of blacks, grays and whites. It may make a huge difference in the reception and success of your work."

Guest Contributor: Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

PHOTOS CREDIT: Ursula Verduzco's 'Let Me Be Clear'. Photo by Paul Esposito; Arch Contemporary Ballet in 'Seasons of White'. Photo by Guillame Gaudet; Christopher Liddell's 'The Recessionistas'. Photo by Jan LaSalle for JCE; Photo courtesy of Arch Contemporary Ballet; Christopher Liddell's 'Mornings with Irving'. Photo by Jan LaSalle for JCE.