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Events, Interview

The Art of Light on Stage – Yaron Abulafia

April 30, 2017
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Award-winning performance designer Yaron Abulafia has designed over 200 performances, installations, concerts and TV shows internationally. He has designed for Staatsballett Berlin, English National Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater, the Hungarian State Theatre of Cluj-Napoca in Romania, Rambert Dance Company, Opera Ballett am Rhein Dusseldorf, Compañía Nacioanl de Danza Spain and Ballet BC in Vancouver, to mention but a few.

In his book The Art of Light on Stage, Abulafia focuses on the new tendencies of lighting design for contemporary ‘post dramatic’ performances, approaching lighting design from semiotic and phenomenological perspectives, referencing cognitive studies and art. Abulafia introduces a conceptual framework for the analysis of the bodily experience, the meaning and autonomy of light in contemporary performances, considering light itself to be a performer and the “sculptor” of spatial perception. In his academic writings – as well as in his performance designs – Abulafia explores the ‘performativity’ of light, examines the boundaries of its autonomy in the given narrative context, and works to interweave the dramaturgy of light with the creation of other media in the performance.

Abulafia is a visiting lecturer in high demand at universities and art academies around the world. He holds a PhD, a Master’s degree in Scenography, and a B.A. in theatre studies. Abulafia was honoured to take part as a jury member in the most distinguished international exhibition of performance design – World Stage Design 2013 – organized by OISTAT once every 4 years.


               Letter Off-, Grand Theatre, Groningen, 2007. Director, Light, Scenography&Costumes Yaron Abulafia. photo by Karel Zwaneveld

Hello, Yaron! You have some amazing theatre lighting works. I looked at the pictures on your website over and over again. For how long have you been working with light?


I have been working with light for 20 years. With a background in painting and sculpture studies, I discovered the practice of performance lighting design when I was 17. Working with colours and light felt very natural to me. Light seemed to be a very fascinating medium, an instrument to create atmospheres and affect the emotions of spectators. Initially, I was using it very intuitively, in a rather naive way: I first light shows at my school and then, gradually, I began working with theatre and commercial companies on different kinds of productions.


 And the Earth Shall Bear Again, by Itzik Galili,Theatre Royal, Glasgow, photo by Amber Hunt

Could you recommend us a few universities where students can learn about lighting design?


Yes, there are a number of institutes I can recommend to students, after having visited quite a few, but I believe that a successful match depends on more than the mere content of a study program. Lighting design students should find the most suitable university for them based on several factors: the content and structure of the study program, the performance genres and styles they want to specialise in, the cultural environment and artistic traditions in the country in which the university operates, and the possibility to watch (and learn) masterworks of renowned artists from around the world. Every student has different expectations and, therefore, will consider one study program and institute better suited than the other. Alongside many others, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, and the Theatre Academy Helsinki of the University of the Arts Helsinki have very good (and very different) programs.


Name three lighting fixtures you would take with you if you were stranded on a deserted island.


BMFL Blade by ROBE

Svoboda by ADB

Elidy PSX9 by Chromlech


You launched a book on stage lighting. Who should read it?


This book is for anyone who is interested in the creative role that lighting design is playing in contemporary opera, theatre and dance performance. I introduce and analyze the fascinating ways in which some of the most prominent theatre artists today use light in their productions in order to stimulate our imagination, create bodily experiences and potential meanings with light.

What makes this book unique is that I write about light from phenomenological, semiotic and poetic perspectives, with reference to cognitive and neuroscience studies that relate to art. The Art of Light on Stage: Lighting in Contemporary Theatre deals with the power of light to function as a ‘performer’ and compose visual dramaturgy. This book is less about my own work and more about the field of lighting design in contemporary performance today.

The book will be of interest for lighting – as well as set and costume – designers, directors and choreographers, dramaturges, scholars and students, and technicians whose work and study fields are opera, theatre and dance.

Since its publication in the 2015/6 season, the book has been presented in the following countries/institutes/events:


  • Prague Quadrennial, Prague (Czech Republic)
  • London – the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden (UK)
  • USITT annual conference – Salt Lake City (USA)
  • Tel Aviv – the Israeli Opera (Israel)
  • Beijing, the 3rd Chinese Stage Expo (China)
  • Helsinki (Finland)
  • Madrid – AFIAL conference (Spain)
  • Sibiu International Theatre Festival (Romania)
  • Stockholm (Sweden)
  • Amsterdam Stadsschouwburg (Netherlands)
  • Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (UK)
  • Kadja – International Festival for Contemporary Dance, Vilnius (Lithuania)

And the next events will take place at:

  • Tallinn City Theatre – The Linnatheater – in Tallinn, Estonia on May 11th
  • Bulandra Theatre, Bucharest, Romania on May 15th
  • SET | STAGE | SCENERY, Berlin, Germany on June 22nd

A few more will be announced shortly.





What’s your take on the future of lighting? Forty years ago, we had PAR64 and some filters. Now we have plenty of LED light bulbs, discharge lamps, moving heads. But still, what’s missing right now? What kind of light would help you with your designs?


Since the employment of electric light in theatre, following the introduction of electric bulb in 1879, the palette of lighting instruments has continuously evolved, but it has never grown so rapidly as in the last decade. Today, we have plenty of tools available to design with and there will surely be many more when this interview will be published. However, in my opinion, the quality of lighting design in performing arts will always be far more dependent on the designers’ capacity to stimulate imagination.

This can be best reached by working in full collaboration with the entire creative team from a very early stage, in order to create dramaturgy of light in the show. What light should do to the spectator is more important than what the light looks like.

Working with light as a creative force in a show – as a means to create bodily experiences and meaningful expressions, rather than mere sensation of beauty and atmospheric effect – will hopefully pave the way to a broader recognition that light design is a form of art. I will elaborate on this subject during the event that will be held at the Bulandra theatre on May 15th.

Visit Yaron´s website

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