Woods, a light installation by the design duo Nocte, served as the illumination for A Study of Who, a recent dance performance that depicted the five stages of grief.

A Study of Who, a collaboration between director Heather Eddington and poet Anna Mae Selby, is an intimate dance performance that depicts the five stages of grief. Heavy stuff, to be sure. To help her represent that elemental human experience, Eddington tapped the interdisciplinary light designers at Nocte, who came back with a bold proposal: Filling the stage with 30 anglepoise lamps, custom-built to serve as scenery, establish ambiance, and respond to the performer dynamically throughout the piece, like a sort of Greek chorus of light.

In one sense, Nocte’s installation, Woods, performs the same function more traditional setups have always achieved from the wings and above the audience’s heads. They light the action. But in this case, the on-stage arrangement means that they’re able to be choreographed with dazzling precision, illuminating certain sections of the set during certain parts of the show, but also flickering on and off as if controlled by the performer herself. Andrea Cuius-Boscarello, one of Nocte’s two members, along with Hannelore Leisek, says that the challenge is giving light a more active role in the performance without distracting from the action. “Of course the installation must serve the show,” he says, “but at the same time we would definitely like it to stand out and bring it to life.”

The duo relies on cue lists and presets, like most theater tech crews, for deploying the right lights at the right moments. But a set of effects adds a second layer to their behavior–each light is assigned to a certain acoustic frequency, for example, making them responsive to the performer and the soundtrack. The installation informed the performance in even more significant ways in pre-production. Cuius-Boscarello says that Eddington was eager to adapt the piece to maximize the installation’s impact, in some instances making up new bits of choreography and adding on-stage props, like the table, to fully realize the scenes.