Ballet Spotlight: Light Rain

By Sheri Candler

As the company reformed in early 1980, Gerald Arpino was moved by the energy jolted into the Joffrey by the new, young dancers. He had been toying with choreography set to the music of Middle Eastern rhythms since 1979, but with the Iran hostage crisis happening, he was advised that the work might offend the audience, so he postponed its debut until November 1981.

In an interview for the film, Arpino recalled what inspired the piece. “I remember this belly dancer with her sword and undulating her pelvis.  She had a honest pelvis and that was very important, you had to have an honest pelvis to be in Light Rain. She came to my  studio in San Francisco and she undulated and I thought, well this is the basis of a ballet.”

“Then, I heard these fellows in a cabaret playing their music and I asked them if they would like to compose some music for me.  And my God, they were thrilled and so they came to the studio and we talked and out of that collaboration between these fellows who were performing in a cabaret and this girl who had an honest pelvis, Light Rain was born.  It became really, one of the most fun ballets I created.  It was a delight to create it.”

Herbert Migdoll, the Joffrey’s longtime photographer, also recalled the creation of the work. “Jerry [Arpino] was a great artist.  He was a choreographer who was inspired by music or an idea and then pursued it through dance.  His work had a certain magical quality that was strongly influenced by his love of the beauty and magic of the human body and watching it in motion on stage and seeing how bodies can move through space.”

Light Rain is a wonderful work using Eastern influence.  The eroticism of the Indian visuals, to a certain extent it has a feeling a little bit of the element of the Indian Kama Sutra where there’s an eroticism, and you are kind of hypnotized by the beauty of the bodies mixing together, the intermingling of bodies.  It certainly happens a lot less in Light Rain than it does in Indian sculpture, but the essence of seeing the beauty of primarily naked bodies that are just adorned with light because he had used mirrors to create light.  The light in the word Light Rain is based on the light that comes down from heaven.”

“For him to personify it on stage, he had put little mirrors on the inside of the hands of the dancers so that whenever their hands did the Indian-esque movement, the lights onstage would sparkle and twinkle.  And that’s why when they do that opening and all the hands rush up to the center, there’s this burst of sparkling light that comes from their little mirrors on their fingers, which they then take off when they dance so that they don’t get hurt.  But you’re aware of that light sparkling.”

stage still of Arpino's Light Rain

The Joffrey Ballet website explains the elements of the piece.

“A company ballet in three movements, it  has an original score by Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier, contemporary composers from San Francisco. The music for the ballet, called ‘Dream Dancer,’ is scored for an unusual combination of instruments: banjo, violin, mandolin, bass, toumbec (clay drum), finger cymbals, tambourine, claves (South American wood sticks), maraca, and bamboo flute. The sound has been described as East-West fusion. Gerald Arpino chose to create this work for The Joffrey Ballet’s Silver Anniversary to showcase the new young dancers of the company. ‘It is my gift to these talented youngsters who are the artists of the Eighties. I am inspired by their modes and rituals, their passions.’ Light Rain, with its accent on youth, its American artists, and its original music remains the company’s most beloved and requested signature work.”

Premiere: November  4, 1981, City Center Theatre, New York, NY

Music – Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier

Lighting Design – Kevin Dreyer after the original Thomas Skelton

Costume Design – A. Christina Giannini

Here is a video excerpt


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