Jennifer Tipton lights up REDCAT, and many other stages

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Leading lighting designer Jennifer Tipton turns 73 on Saturday, and she’ll probably spend her birthday working. The two-time Tony winner keeps an intense schedule, trekking the globe to collaborate with the likes of Robert Wilson, Placido Domingo and The Wooster Group. (She acknowledges that part of her 2008 MacArthur “genius” grant went toward flying business class.)

Tipton is currently in Los Angeles putting the finishing touches on “Rain Coloring Forest,” a multimedia dance-light-music performance created with Sardono W. Kusumo, one of Indonesia’s most innovative dancers. The piece premieres at REDCAT on Sept. 16. (Click here to read more about their collaboration.)


“Rain” developed out of Tipton’s fascination with Sardono’s recent paintings: 30-foot-long scrolls exploding with color. “Jennifer said, ‘I see so many lights in your paintings,’” Sardono recalled. “And now here we are with a show.”

Tipton’s singular eye resonates both with colleagues and her students at Yale. Recent graduate Jesse Belsky says that the overarching lesson of Tipton’s career is her “incredible unpredictability. She manages to come at work from a lot of unexpected places.” Belsky is also struck by Tipton’s economy. “On one project we studied I would have needed 250 lights,” he recalls. “Jennifer used seven.”

Former Tipton student Don Holder, who won a Tony for his work on “The Lion King,” says he still asks himself WWJD when lighting a show. “Jennifer’s work has integrity. It opens a unique window on the text. I always aspire to that.” Holder’s work will be on view in ‘Leap of Faith,’ the new musical at the Ahmanson Theatre starring Brooke Shields and Raul Esparza.

Tipton returns to REDCAT when the Wooster Group brings in Tennessee Williams’ “Vieux Carre” in December. Before that, she heads back to New York for another genre-defying work, “Spectral Scriabin,” a concert-light show celebrating the work of Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, whose compositions were likely inspired by synesthesia. “I am very busy,” admits the lighting designer. “I just feel so lucky.” Asked to comment on her most satisfying collaborations, Tipton demurs. “I don’t remember the past,” she smiles. “Only the future.”

-- Charlotte Stoudt