Friday, August 19, 2011

Living Dreams: My Color Ballet

Visitation, Mark Morris

The other night some friends came over for dinner and the conversation turned to creative projects that we had conceived but never realized.  One of my guests knew about my color ballet and encouraged me to share my vision. 

Mark Morris

Years ago someone gave me a book about Mark Morris.  I had his seen his dance troupe perform at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall several times.  Reading about the young choreographer with the piercing eyes, wild hair and mildly outrageous behaviors intrigued me.  Weirdly enough I was walking down the street in San Francisco a few days later and ran into him.  I told him that I loved his work and found his creativity inspiring.  He was warm, engaging, and perfectly open to talking with a complete stranger.  A seed was planted…

A very generous friend took me to the San Francisco Ballet for six years.  During this time, Michael Smuin was the Artistic Director.  We saw revivals, newly commissioned pieces and the premiere of The Beatles ballet.  The response to the Beatles premiere split the audience demographic down the middle.  While some attendees walked out, others gave the performance a standing ovation with cheers.

Beatles, Michael Smuin

Critics of the Smuin era said the dancers were sloppy but advocates felt the boundaries of conventional ballet programming were expanded.  Patrons were exposed to the classics, the forgotten and the new.  Francis Ford Coppola was brought in to do sets.  The art component of ballet seemed to open for me.  I thought why couldn’t a color specialist dive into this world where musicians, and filmmakers, were adding excitement to the form.

New York City Ballet Set, Santiago Calatrava + Peter Martins

A Color Ballet based on the major hues would be a complete sensory delight. Music would be incorporated to elicit the mood of color.  Sets would communicate the psychological associations humans have subconsciously to specific colors.  The dancers’ costumes would be one uniform color using shape, texture, and form to convey meaning. 

Issey Miyake Design

The red movement would pulse with dramatic music like a beating heart and the red costumes would be provocative as a bullfighter’s form fitting couture.  The blue movement music and choreography would be hypnotic like ocean waves and the blue costumes would billow like clouds floating effortlessly in the sky. 

Pacific, Mark Morris

The visual receptors and the biological response to color stimulus paired with the mood triggering power of music, interpretive movements and gestures of the human body would reinforce the ballet concept. Imagine how a stage filled with movements in red would move an audience in a different way than a stage filled with blue movements. 

Italian Concerto, Mark Morris

Although a Color Ballet would not require a traditional story line the performance would still have the power to convey an entire range of emotions to the audience.  One could compare this to the genre of expressionist painting verses the pictorial old masters.  In this case, color meets dance on a primal level.

Mark Morris Dance Troupe

It was now time to engage Mark Morris.  I sent several color themed gifts to his studio in Brooklyn.  The staff referred to me as “The Color Ballet Lady.”  One color gift involved a Todd Oldham French grosgrain ribbon handbag from the South Beach Florida boutique, filled with green paint chips, green gloves, green feathers, and green rubber frogs. Another gift included a royal blue push broom with a matching over sized dustpan.  Each color quest was wrapped in the chosen gift color. He must have thought I was crazy.  

Color Gifts for Mark

Eventually, Mark agreed to meet me for a drink to discuss my idea. I left San Francisco and during my journey South, I visualized my color filled creation and saw myself taking bows at the triumphant finale with Mark.

Mark Morris + Jill Pilaroscia

We met in San Luis Obispo where his troop was performing at the time.  In my bag, I brought velvet squares in the major hues for cocktail napkins, and a careful selection of music.  The pale pink interior of the hotel bar spoke only of the 1980’s.  We sat at a high round top table on stools that immediately dwarfed my stature. I was carefully attired in black to not draw attention to myself.  I ceremoniously placed homemade polychromatic velvet squares on the table top as textural cocktail napkins.  I was setting the stage for the brilliant color ballet.

He was gracious and complimented my originality. He listened patiently as I discussed my big idea – each color would have music, costumes and sets that reinforced the inherent associative characteristics of the color.  We would contrast the colors in a way to create surprise and tension.  I referenced the work of Carl Jung on the collective unconscious, the origins of associative color and human evolution, and the metaphysical relationship of sound, specific notes and color. I also contrasted the concept to that of Balanchine’s Jewels ballet, spoke of Scriabin’s Color Music concerts in the late 1800’s - all this time stressing the originality of the Color Ballet idea. 

Jewels, George Balanchine

Mark responded with a clear statement, "I work from music not from ideas!" Having seen an abundance of Mark’s works I should have recognized his style. He finished his drink and invited me to his performance that evening. With a heavy heart, I drove back to San Francisco. My year long effort came to an end with Mark’s declaration that music rules his creativity.  Mine however, is ruled by color. We touched but we didn’t dance.

It was with mixed emotion that I watched his San Francisco Ballet production, The Sandpaper Ballet. Isaac Mizrahi created the bright green costumes, which vibrated against an electric red set.  Seeing the inclusion of powerful colors made me think that I had possibly influenced Mark’s appreciation for color on some level.

Sandpaper, Mark Morris

Sitting high in the hall closet is a red cardboard banker box full of notes, costume inspirations, color visuals for sets, and reviews of successful new ballet productions worldwide. The idea has not died, and my passion for color still lives strong. One day I will revisit the Color Ballet with a grand finale showcasing the dance of the seven hues.  

Photo Credits
Visitation Ballet:
Morris Portrait:
Beatles Ballet:
NYCB Set: Architectural Record, September 2010, Photo by Paul Kolnik
Miyake Design:
Pacific Ballet:
Italian Concerto Ballet:
Mark Morris Dance Troupe:
Color Gifts: Jill Pilaroscia
Morris + Pilaroscia: Donald Jones Photography, 1999
Jewels Ballet:
Sandpaper Ballet:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Color Branding of Corporate Interiors

It is a human evolutionary impulse to covet the new and improved. Curiosity has lead to innovations, discovery, and improvements on all levels of existence.  In terms of the environments where we live and work, we have come to embrace the idea that the new has a powerful impact on our experience.

In the 1990s, companies started branding their corporate environments.  The trend grew, as the idea that business identity could crossover from advertising media to interior space gained broad acceptance.  Many corporations used the same environmental cues to support their brand messages in all their workspaces, whether in London, Omaha, or New York.

Target, Cape Coral, Florida

Innovative companies desired interiors that defied the norm. At the Yahoo campus in Sunnyvale, California, slides were installed to connect an upper floor to the floor below.  Who needs stairs when gravity can work to your advantage? Freestanding conference rooms with canted walls in vibrant colors looked nothing like their traditional counterparts.  Ebay followed suit with interior colors that matched its logo.   New players like Facebook and Salesforce chose enthusiastic palettes reflecting their youthful worker demographic.  These environments are bold, fun, festive, and stimulating.

eBay, San Jose, California

Google changes its home page visuals daily. High tech companies of all kinds are constantly adapting their products to reflect new introductions or new services. But should the branded physical environment change as quickly? Does using the precise criteria for branding identity and product make sense in the built environment? Is it a sound return on investment?

Twitter, San Francisco, California

Cultural anthropology has become part of the prerequisite architectural curriculum at architectural institutions like University of Florida. Architects use science and art to design spaces while anthropology focuses on science and people.    People who have researched the link between humans and environment like Dr.Heinrich Frieling, Dr. Harry Wolfarth, Frank Mahnke have found that humans need variety in their environments to avoid monotony, visual fatigue and boredom.   Access to nature, good air quality, variable light levels, and comfortable and ergonomic furniture all enhance productivity.

Facebook, Palo Alto, California

The concept of one-upmanship in creating dramatic environments sometimes misses the human mark.  We all like new, and fun things, but there will be times when color for color’s sake will not carry the clients’ investment soundly into the future. Lets consider if that colorful package design, which visually leaps off a retail shelf will be as successful as a focal wall color in an office environment.   Let’s at a minimum question if a branded color solution works in an environment.

Yahoo, Tokyo, Japan

I would suggest that digging deeper into behavioral scientific response, geographic locations, climate conditions, and demographic profiles will yield a brand environment that will not be irrelevant when the next big color trend surfaces.

I completely support the idea that each organization has its own culture. The culture may prefer to work in quiet private spaces for specific tasks and then have the flexibility to roam a large floor plan to select informal group work situations. What I am suggesting is that the same amount of time spent on space planning, preparing furniture layouts, and using real estate efficiently should also be spent on determining what is the most beneficial aesthetic environment that will support human needs.  Color used indiscriminately to look innovative will not stand the test of time, nor will it serve the brand in a significant way.

Photo Credits