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With lights you can do miracles: Sai Venkatesh
- Lalitha Venkat, Chennai

September 29, 2008

He can come up with fabulous solutions for any last minute demands for this light or that...even with one hurried tech rehearsal, with a limited number of lights that a dancer can afford, he produces a visual treat on stage, something any dancer would be only too happy to leave in his dependable and capable hands. Add to all this, an ever present smile. That's miracle man Sai Venkatesh, Managing Trustee of Bangalore based Sai Arts International that does yeomen service by organizing various cultural events, festivals, seminars, workshops and so on.

Sai has done a 3 year Bachelor degree in dance (Bangalore University), a 3 year course in Dance Choreography (Dr.Maya Rao's Natya institute of Kathak and Choreography) and has 32 years of dance experience. He has done light design for more than 2000 shows including dance productions, working with many senior gurus of India as well as budding artistes.

He has worked in all major cities of India and its theatres and toured USA's Broadway theatres. He is the Technical Partner - Centre Stage Light & Sound Co., Technical Director - Seva Sadan Auditorium in Bangalore, official light designer for Dr. Maya Rao - Natya Institute of Kathak & Choreography, Madhu Nataraj - Stem Dance Company, Ananya Cultural Academy and many other dancers and dance organizations.

Sai Venkatesh is Vice-President, Karnataka Nritya Kala Parishat, and Secretary, World Dance Alliance-AP-Karnataka Chapter.

Sai shares his thoughts about being a professional light designer for dance.

After learning Bharatanatyam and doing a course in choreography, what made you turn to light direction as your vocation?

Light designing for dance is my profession. The accident which did not allow me to dance, the 3 years specialization in dance choreography under Dr. Maya Rao in New Delhi brought me in-depth knowledge and I felt the technical support to our dancers and their dance productions will refine their presentation to high quality. There were no light designers for dance productions, so I thought it is a good profession and took it up.

How important is the interaction between a light designer and dance choreographer?
Dance is a visual media, so importance should be given to visual presentation. If the quality of presentation should be to a professional standard, the dance choreographer has to spend lots of time with the light designer. Most of the time, the choreographers do not know the light pattern or layout in the theatre; even before choreographing the theme, they should interact with the light designer.

How do you go about planning light design for a certain production? What are the important points to consider?'s top secret! It's my own technique, I cannot reveal it, yet the basic planning is color combination, with regard to costumes, sets, and theme. The placing of lights, usage of lights to stress the particular sequence, the quantum of richness in intensity, sequencing of lights for the characters to be highlighted, etc. The major points to consider are the period, time, location, mood, and the characters to be highlighted and balancing act of colors with regard to costumes in particular.

The importance of tech rehearsals with light / sound before main shows?
In western countries, the theatre is hired for a week, minimum 3 to 4 technical rehearsals are done and the final show is presented. Of course the cost problem is there, but atleast one technical rehearsal will bring a professional quality to the presentation. If light and sound does not balance, it will be a bad production.
The choreographer should visit the theatre and decide the requirements well in advance for the production.

Do dancers and light directors in India get required time for setting up the stage and lights as well as for the run-through?
No, we never do. Due to constraints in the budget, we hardly get few hours to set up stage, light, sound, backdrop, side wings, etc. This happens in low budget and amateur productions. The professionals demand time to put up props and lights and have a neat run-through tech rehearsal.

What impact do light design and soundscape have on a production?
Technical advancement - light and sound have replaced artists on stage. It is called as sound and light show. Sound recordings are done with great zeal of high quality with professional musicians and effects needed for the productions. For example, if water or fire effects is heard, it's easy for a light designer to use such effects on stage.
The professional productions and dance choreographers work hard to get a good impact of techniques in the production; visual media has to be supported well with technical media.

A good light design can sometimes mask a sub-standard production / dancer, is it not?
You are correct 100%...with lights you can do miracles, it's just like a magic show, creating illusion out of nothing.
I can make someone good looking, tall, small, slim and a good dancer - special technics are used here. A bad production can be made to look good. I have done lots of such's a's high quality technical support and technology advancement...

How important is it for a light designer to attend rehearsals? Do you?
I am a professional light designer, with 3 years of bachelor degree in dance and 3 years of specialization in dance choreography under Guru Dr. Maya Rao's Natya Institute of Choreography. I make it a point to attend the run-through or at least two rehearsals, which helps me in registering the subject and choreography well. For classical dance items and rangapresvaham / arangetrams also, I make it a point to attend rehearsals.
It is important to do lots of corrections technically before the production is presented.
In fact, Dr. Vyjayanthimala Bali, Dr. Maya Rao, Anita Ratnam, Madhu Nataraj, and many professional dance teachers and choreographers call me for the final rehearsals and's lots of mathematics for using lights and designing as per technical expertise.

Do you think dancers in India consider light design an important part of a production?
Sorry, most of the classical dancers do not know what light designing is. They have no light sense, they cannot utilize lights, and some of them do not check if good or proper lights are available in the theatre, they just start dancing without technical check-ups. The basic theory is "light does not come to you - you have to take lights" ...none of these dancers consider lights as an important aspect of presentation.
It is very sad...sometimes they dance in dark areas on stage...even their expression is not seen...Only professional dancers and choreographers and dance institutions give importance to light designing.

Considering that most auditoriums in India have very basic lights, extra lights have to be invariably hired for a dance program and that costs quite a bit. How many dancers are willing to spend?
It depends on the budget. If the production needs more lights, the dancer has to spend ...if working on a budget constraint - your production and presentation suffers quality.
Most dancers doing solo classical presentation, with straight classical items, need not use too many lights or gimmicks to spoil the sanctity of pure classical presentations. It is enough if sufficient lights are used and bright enough for all the audience to see.

Dancers can budget well in advance, instead of spending too much money on jewels, costumes, invitations, brochures and other decorations, etc. I have been helping dancers who cannot afford to get sufficient lights due to budget constraint. Dancers initially need help to grow, I feel one should help them to grow. They are carrying our rich culture and tradition.

It is not enough just to have air-conditioned theatres. The seating plans are not good, the height of the stage in many places end up giving a pain in the neck. The faulty sound systems have given performers tense moments on stage. External sound system and lights have to be hired. Why don't the auditorium owners spend more attention and money on such things?
The auditoriums in this country are there to make money, with no good equipments or technical aspects like sound and lights, etc. They spend more money for the external beauty and cosmetic value of the theatre.

Our auditoriums are not constructed to the requirements of dance performance. The proper theatre has to be planned with professional theatre designers and technical theatre cannot be used as multipurpose auditoriums...There is lot of theory behind theatre construction; it needs a professional's involvement.

Do you think light directors are given due recognition / credit for their work? By the dancer / critic / audience?
No! No! No! It's sad that neither the government culture departments nor dance academies or dancers give due recognition to light designers. Sometimes they don't even thank you after the show... it hurts me and my team. We work for days and long hours to give good results.

The back stage has to be respected by organizers, critics, dancers etc. Only professional dancers/gurus/institutions have great regard for technicians. They honour our service. It's a team work, dancers-musicians-technicians work for the best production presentation. It's very sad we are forgotten...without stage-light-sound, how can you dance?

Sai Venkatesh:

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