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Gaslight


Cliff

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A spinoff from the thread "Eras in Ballet History" at http://balletalert.ipbhost.com/index.php?s...showtopic=13172.

Regarding the era of the Romantic Rebellion, Alexandra wrote:

It was also the age of gaslight, which replaced candles as the lighting in theaters and produced a blue ghostly glow perfect for the subject matter of the ballets.

Which makes me wonder whether there have been any recent productions by gas light. After all, there've been efforts to reproduce exact choreography, costumes, and sets. So why not lighting?

Cliff

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That's a very interesting question and I don't know the answer -- I hope someone else does. They try to emulate gas light with electric lights (with a blue filter -- one of our lighting masters will be able to do better, I'm sure) -- but those who saw the beginning of the electric era said it had an entirely different effect. I think there might be a problem, not only because the gas fittings will have been removed from theaters and may be hard to reintroduce, but because they were so terribly dangerous. Many dancers burned to death, including at least one noted one (Emma Livry in Paris) because they would dance too close to the flames their skirts would ignite.

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That's interesting -- I'd read of a blue glow, making the stage darker, and making it possible for night scenes to take place. (The analogy I've read is classical/candlelight/daylight; romantic/gaslight/moonlight.) I took a quick look at Guest's "The Romantic Ballet in Paris" and couldn't find a reference. Sorrell says only "The scenic designers for the melodrama were the first to take advantage of the multiple possibilities of gas-lighting onstage, with a gradual variation of illumination, making use of the eerie bluish effect of its radiation. Gaslight achieved surprising stage images for the melodrama with its many Gothic castles or ruins in mysterious forests and wild lake landscapes. When the Opera -- and with it the Romantic ballet -- began to use gaslight, then all that was still unimaginable a generation before became the reality of the widest range of illusions. The chandeliers in the auditorium could be extinguished and at last, from the darkened house, the spectators' eyes could be surprised and stunned by a moonlit scene simulated by gas jets suspended in the flies. First realized in "The Ballet of the Nuns," gas-lighting illuminating the extra lightness of the ballerina in an eerie setting created the sensation of having put reality into its romantic place."

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I've never seen an example of the old "boilerworks" that they used to use for a gas lighting panel, but it wouldn't surprise me a bit to find that they could add air to the mixture from there and blue the lights up nicely. After 1883, they could employ the Welsbach gas mantle and get an almost white light, which saved gas, but was very, very hot, and required precise nozzle settings to keep the mantle from sooting over. Electric lighting was available from a startlingly early day, about 1845, but it was arc lighting and fizzed and hissed and spat! Good for street lights, but not so good for stage. The old lime-light was a bright white light, too, and used a block of calcium onto which a hot jet of gas flame was played until it incandesced. It was noisy and smelly, too, but at least it could be put into a soundproof booth far back in the theater! Hence, by the way, "Calcium Light Night" at Yale.

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