Jennifer Tipton

Jennifer Tipton

The mentor

Published in 2015

Hailed as “the world’s most remarkable creator of lighting” by The New York Times, Jennifer Tipton (born on 11 September, 1937) has made significant contributions to her profession over nearly a half-century of lighting theatrical, dance and opera productions. For the MacArthur Foundation in the U.S., which honoured her with a “genius” grant in 2008, Tipton’s versatile designs have “redefined the relationship between lighting and performance”.

Entering Cornell University to study astrophysics, Tipton graduated in 1958 with an English degree and a resolve to dance. She then worked with many dance companies in New York before studying with prominent lighting designer Thomas Skelton, eventually becoming his assistant in 1963. “I fell in love with light at an early stage of dancing,” says Tipton. “It can communicate in a non-verbal way and it fills the space. Light is volume.”

Tipton is principal lighting designer for the Paul Taylor Dance Company, with whom she has worked since the mid-1960s and the Wooster Group. She also began lighting early on for the American Ballet Theatre and made her mark in 1973 with a Jerome Robbins’ evening in Spoleto, Italy. Since then, she has continued to collaborate with the world’s most renowned choreographers, as well as on dozens of theatrical and opera productions. One of her many recent projects was the lighting of the American Ballet Theatre’s production of the Shostakovich Trilogy by Alexei Ratmansky (also a 2014-2015 Rolex mentor) at the Metropolitan Opera House.

A long-serving Professor Adjunct of Design at Yale University’s School of Drama and a committed teacher, Tipton has influenced a generation of lighting designers, while helping to push lighting in new directions. Her groundbreaking work has earned her numerous major theatrical awards, including Bessies, Obies and Tonys, the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize (2001), one of the largest prizes in the arts, and the Jerome Robbins Award (2003).