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Lucy Walker - "...I think lighting kind of chose me."

Lucy_CarterLucy Carter is a respected and sought-after lighting designer. At a glance, her online CV reveals an eclectic twenty-year career that has seen her light national and international productions in theatre, opera and in particular dance. In 2008 an exceptionally fruitful partnership with choreographer Wayne McGregor resulted in her winning the prestigious Knight of Illumination Award for Dance for Chroma.

However, Lucy's earliest career goal was to be on the stage rather than behind the scenes. In fact her first brush with lighting design came while studying Dance and Drama at Roehampton Institute, University of Surrey: "I was primarily involved in choreography. All my ideas centred on the vision I had for the staging of the piece, a visual look. Conversely for most choreographers the ideas for my movement came from my vision for the environment."

Although there were lights in the theatre there were no technicians, so Lucy began to experiment, lighting her own stuff'. "After that I think lighting kind of chose me. Up until that point I didn't really know much about the other careers people could access in professional theatre."

Chroma @ The Bolshoi 2011

This kind of do-it-yourself approach has enabled Lucy to take a remarkably adaptable and flexible approach, for her there are no rules. However she does point out that her core approach has remained largely the same: "I find the best work that I do is fully integrated. I'm there when the first idea comes from the choreographer and I'm suggesting ideas from the beginning right up until the first night."

Indeed the bulk of Lucy's work has been in dance and in particular contemporary dance. Lucy says this genre is attractive to her because it allows her to take risks and avoid the constraints of realism: "I try to avoid too much realism because I'm never really convinced by it personally. As an audience member I respond much better to a story if I'm not asked to completely believe that the characters are living right there, right now."

But being abstract does not mean that Lucy's work is not grounded in something considered and meaningful, far from it. Lucy emphasises the importance and need for research in order to ensure the lighting always fully reflects the 'core idea of the piece'. Her biggest bugbear seems to be that she is so busy that she doesn't have the time to research her projects as comprehensively as she would like.

Like many successful lighting designers Lucy skilfully juggles a heavy schedule and family commitments in the form of her partner and two children. Her online CV shows commitments two years' in advance, including a project at Glyndebourne in 2014. "I think as lighting designers, we feel we have to take on a massive amount of work just to keep our heads above water. Of course when a project is first put forward for consideration you get excited and so you just keep saying yes'.

Because of this Lucy has a steady stream of projects stretching well into the future to excite and interest her. This combined with the increasing flexibility of lighting technology sees her creatively evolving all the time. "My lighting design involves a lot of structure and detailed programming. Now the programming detail is so brilliantly advanced and the programmers that I work with are so fantastically skilled we can actually realise my vision so much more effectively. I'm increasingly using LED to give me flexibility in colour and coverage. However for me the key thing is to have access to durable technology that I can trust. Of course I'm working in contemporary dance most of the time and budgets aren't huge. New equipment and technology can therefore be something of a luxury."

In some senses, despite the range of technology available today, Lucy's approach is still quite lo-fi: "I always come from the idea. I never, if I can at all help it, say I've got this equipment, what can I do with it? My process starts from the moment I'm approached, before anything is made and before the performers have started rehearsing."

Infra @ Joffrey Ballet 2012

Lucy's conceptual, rather than reactionary, approach has led to some emotive and beautiful work. The Independent described her design on Carbon Life for the Royal Ballet this year as 'shamelessly pretty' and the Financial Times dubbed her work on 2010's FAR as 'an alchemist's dream come true'. What seems consistent about Lucy's work is her ability to move an audience on an emotional level, to serve the concept of the piece while being remarkable in its own right: "It's not just about illuminating or making something look pretty. It totally has to have its own ideas," she stresses.

Despite her accolades and experience however, Lucy is shy of describing herself in defining terms: "I think other people would say I have a style. I don't deliberately set out to but apparently I have a very graphic style, very sculptural."

For a practitioner who has a wealth of experience in the field, it seems strange for Lucy to be so oblivious to her own style signatures, but then she also seems to be a designer who focuses on the work in hand, rather than what mark she can make upon it. It is perhaps this lack of ego that makes her such a versatile and aesthetically diverse lighting designer.

To learn more about Lucy and her contributions to our lighting industry: