A multi-media artistic collaboration
Choreography: David Taylor
Original Musical Score: Jesse Manno
Visual Art: George Peters
Special Effects: Jill and Dan Neafus
Lighting Design: Scott Oliver
media production based on life in a tropical rain forest, he responds by telling the story of
receiving a promotional postcard in the mail from light artists Jill and Daniel Neafus.
On the cover of the postcard was a photograph of one of their recent gallery installations where
they splashed green light from their own specially made lighting instruments on shredded paper
sculpture. Mr. Taylor says that this particular image reminded him of foliage in a rain forest. As
obscure as this impetus perhaps was, the result has been nothing less than a phenomenon for
his Denver-based contemporary ballet company. …
Since the premiere of "Rainforest" in 1995, the DTDT has presented the production almost every
year in Denver since, and toured it to venues as far away as the Orange County Performing Arts
Center in Costa Mesa, California….
After getting the original idea, Mr. Taylor brought together some very special artists from very
different artistic disciplines. He knew that his vision called for a totally new kind of dance/theatre
experience if the audience were to get the full effect of the magic and mystery of life in a tropical
rain forest, and for that to happen, he needed help.
... Mr. Taylor asked Jill and Daniel Neafus to create some never-before-seen special effects. One
of the first things we all think about when we hear the words rain forest is, of course, rainfall.
However, to have real water on the stage was not possible due to electrical lighting instruments
and the danger of dancers slipping on the stage. Instead, Jill and Daniel came up with the idea of
"rain pods". These were comprised of clusters of small, hand-made pin spot lighting instruments
installed above the stage. From these "pods", strings were extended from the lights straight down
to the stage floor, where they were anchored. The whole light package was computer generated,
and on cue with Jesse Manno's "monsoon" in the musical score, syncopated rainfall, created by
light, appeared to the audience as the lights flashed quickly down the strings.
.....The "Rainforest" collaborating artists started with the seemingly simple idea of creating a work
that would pay homage to the magic, mystery, and fragility of this incredible ecosystem. From the
outset, it was clear that there were to be no political messages. The artists felt that if they were to
be successful in capturing even part of this wonder and awe, that this would be in and of itself,
The artists started with a "story board". Much like film makers, the collaborating team drew up a
plan of the major components they felt important to include, then, once these components or
areas of artistic representation were agreed upon, they would fill in the details. "Rainforest" was
divided into two parts. It was decided that
....The team started with the idea of we, as audience members, flying high above this mysterious
rain forest, looking down below as if we were in a balloon. Things were murky at first – the
audience, or we as viewers from above, could only make out the dense canopy that protects and
hides most of the wonders beneath it. At the beginning of the production, therefore, we see Jill
and Daniel Neafus’ incredible shifting patterns of light on top of the canopy as the sun rises.
Speaking of the sun, the idea of a progression from morning to night played a part in the concept,
as did our experience, as audience members, of journeying through the different levels of the rain
forest. So, after this mysterious view of the canopy from above, the audience is gradually taken
down to life on the rain forest floor.
In this transition, the artists felt it was important to bring into play the sense of the multitudes of
teeming life that we were about to discover. Thus, before the floor appears, Jill and Dan Neafus
created from hand-held theatre lights "floating eyes", that peered out to the audience, and
George Peters created a "black-lit" section filled with flying dragonflies and moths, and crawling
beetles and a praying mantis.
Note: "black lights" are special effect lights that appear to glow purple. Under them, white objects
or day-glow painted objects appear to glow, while black objects disappear. In this case, dancers,
dressed in black, hold the George Peters’ day-glow painted props.
Now, let’s get back to composer Jesse Manno. As the story board developed and began to take
shape, Jesse began to have a basis from which to work. His opening is a long, drawn out drone,
as if we were flying high above the forest, looking down through the heat. As we transition down to
the floor and begin to see strange eyes and flying and crawling creatures, we hear the buzzing of
insects and the immediacy of a monsoon. Mr. Manno created this marvelous score by playing
most of the instruments himself, by using his own voice, and by even recording natural sounds,
like rain and thunder or the splashing of water. These he sometimes "sampled", or augmented
and distorted them, through electronic recording devices. As this rain storm is heard, the
audience first sees the syncopated rainfall, in light, created by the Neafus team.
As we get finally to the rain forest floor, the audience first sees three huge pods and some very
strange "leafcutter ants" crawling about in the early morning mist. From the pods arise the
"stamen" of these plants as the early morning beams of sunlight hit the pods. Stamen are the
central stalks of flowering plants. The David Taylor Dance Theatre’s "stamen" are female dancers
in different colored unitards, designed by George Peters, that eventually are "partnered" by the
leafcutters, the male dancers. Here, Jesse Manno’s music conjures up a pristine, early misty
Mr. Taylor’s idea involved a mythic and spiritual component to these peoples. All the artistic
collaborators tried very hard to stay away from literal interpretations, instead concentrating on the
essence of rain forest life, made manifest through artistic interpolation. Choreographer David
Taylor had to be especially careful in these sections, not wanting to offend the peoples
themselves by trying to imitate them. In the first part therefore, three male dancers represent
"mythic hunters". Arising from the fog, one carries a huge bow while the other two engage in a
ritual involving blowguns. The bowman eventually "calls forth" the Spirits of his ancestors. These
"Spirits" are 6 female dancers in full white body unitards painted with intricate stenciled designs by
local Denver artist Michael Hecht. They make their entrance in one of the most visually stunning
sequences of the whole ballet, "coming through" a large cloth skin, as if arising from the depths of
rain forest quicksand. The incredible lighting effects on the skin were created by Jill and Daniel
.... Because these native Indian peoples live in perfect harmony with their environment, the artistic
collaborating team of "Rainforest" wanted to show how a mutual respect exists between both the
hunters and the hunted. The bird and the hunters slowly vanish back into the dense undergrowth.
The flying and crawling insects return. The floating eyes return. The monsoon returns. The
audience is once again lifted out of the vicinity and back high above the canopy. The cycle is
complete. The rain forest remains as we first found it: fragile, mysterious and magical.
David Taylor Dance Theatre | PO Box 140750 Edgewater, CO 80214
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