Can you dance with a chandelier?


The assignment for Jessica Doughty and her fellow students in choreography class was to scout locations on campus they thought would be ideal for staging dances they had yet to create.

Doughty didn’t hesitate.

For the modern dance she envisioned, the perfect setting in which to perform would be under the “Flux Chandelier,” an interactive sculpture in Zook Hall, home to the LeBron James Family Foundation College of Education. Composed of clustered, interactive LED tubes that hang at varying heights, the sculpture produces an ever-changing range of colors in response to movement from below.

“I had this piece of music I had been wanting to use for a really long time,” says Doughty, who is earning a B.A. in Dance with a business cognate. “I thought it would fit with the lights and the space. All the choreography was created in the studio, but I rehearsed it at the site. I would take things from the music and the light would work with my movements. My piece is very musically driven.”

VIDEO: “The Movement of Light

The combination of the music, her movements and the chandelier’s ever changing hues became a well-received piece titled “The Movement of Light.”

With her assignment completed, Doughty might have just moved on to the next one.

Instead, she embarked on a unique collaboration with videographer Steve Allen, who wanted to film her performance under the “Flux Chandelier.”

Magic of dance

“I saw it as an opportunity,” says Allen, senior multi-media producer in the Department of University Communications and Marketing. He had previously filmed the sculpture and its creator, Jen Lewin, to accompany a story for the University’s website.

“Not only had I already fallen in love with Jen Lewin’s interactive artwork, but dance is one of my favorite subjects to shoot,” adds Allen, who has done it quite often over the years for area dance groups. “I’ve loved dance for so long, but shooting dance is so challenging, because it’s all moving parts. Performances are usually dark, and you have to put cameras in different places, far from the dancers. I’ve always wanted to shoot one that is specifically for the camera.”

So over several Saturdays, when Zook Hall was fairly quiet, Doughty danced, and danced, and danced some more as Allen tried different angles and she refined the choreography and her performance.

Challenged to do even better

“This was the first time I did a dance for film,” notes Doughty. “So I knew when I messed up. I knew exactly when I messed up,” she admits with a smile. “By re-watching the video, I knew I wasn’t happy with it the first time we filmed, and I knew the specific parts to do differently or to work on. The advantage is that the final video shows the best runs of the piece.”

“Editing,” adds Allen with a smile of his own. “Once I put it together and looked at it the first time, it was almost magical what happens on screen.” 

“I’m very happy, very proud of it,” says Doughty of her solo star turn. “It’s been a really awesome experience. I always hoped to dance for film, and this just naturally happened. There’s no story behind the choreography. I was hoping someone could see it and be inspired by my movement, and also the chandelier.”

Inspiring others was Lewin’s goal as well when she created the sculpture, and she says she is delighted with the video. The new media artist is now using parts of it when she makes presentations about her light sculptures, which are installed in locations around the United States and in other countries.

“I trained as a dancer, a ballerina, and my mother was a dancer too, so dance, movement, is very much integrated into my work,” Lewin reveals. “To see what Jess did, I’m so enthralled. 

Art inspires art

“When I first toured the space before creating the sculpture, it seemed so sterile,” says Lewin of this public art project. “I imagined what would happen as people interacted with my sculpture, but to know it has also inspired art is the ultimate.” 

As for Doughty, she’s now focused on graduating in December and becoming a professional dancer.

“If I could perform for a small modern dance company, that would be great for a few years,” she says. “My end goal is to create programming in a children’s hospital, public schools and for inner city kids.”

While she started dancing at age 3, it wasn’t until she attended the Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in Michigan as a teen that she knew it could be a career. “I Ioved being there, loved dancing every day, loved exploring new things within dance,” recalls Doughty.

“From that point on, I knew that dance is what I wanted to do.”