MDG CHATmosphere is a series of conversations with lighting designers and other creatives behind the scenes. In this, the second in the series, MDG talks to multi award-winning Finnish lighting, set and video content designer and programmer, Mikki Kunttu, whose work encompasses ballet, opera, concerts, contemporary dance, television and theatre.
MDG: Your work life covers many aspects as a lighting, set and video content designer and programmer. Can you give us an outline of what your work entails?
In everything I do, lighting is very central. I’m very much drawn to manipulating the three-dimensional space and I love exploring with lighting, video and sets. A big part of it is simply looking at the emptiness of a space with curious eyes and trying to find its potential. I guess I would always aim to blur the lines between sets, lighting and video as I think they are one and the same.
Using a console and programming has always been a quite natural part of it all as I could not see myself doing this without being able to program creatively myself. I think that way the technical aspect does not get in my way.
MDG: What route have you taken to get here?
It is a very common story…I started out playing guitar in bands as a teenager, then found myself working in the local theatre and completely fell in love with the spirit of the ensemble and with the whole theatre vibe. Then I studied lighting and sound for a few years before getting introduced to contemporary dance. Dance led me eventually to ballet and opera, and at the same time I also started to do some live TV shows and also worked for some bands. That path later took me to opportunities like the Eurovision Song Contest.
MDG: Last year you celebrated your 50th birthday and your 30-year (to date!) career with a weekend of productions at Finland’s prestigious Tampere Hall. How did that feel?
Yes, it actually was a week of productions which included Lucid Dreams, a retrospective photo exhibition, the Light & Shadow international seminar, a concert performance of The Planets with Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, and A Night of Light gala evening with performers from all around the world. I think the week really displayed what I enjoy the most: how totally incredible it is to get to know and to get to work with the most amazing people. We are all like-minded nomads and I love everything we do. Creative life is such a blessing. I could not ask for more.
MDG: What are the signatures of your lighting style?
I guess I would always try to look at the big picture, so I’m maybe doing less in the way of effects and more in the way of focusing on the main visual image of a show. It’s somehow minimalistic, but executed in a grand way!
MDG: You use a lot of haze, fog and low fog in your designs – what do you look for in this aspect?
I tend to say if there is one thing my whole career is based on, it is haze. And MDG is a pretty serious player in that field.
Haze enables the three-dimensional manipulation of the performance space. Most often it is simply thought of as a way to bring out the beams, but at best I think it is way more - it is about visual dynamics and definition. Haze gives great possibilities to work in visual layers and to add some mystery as well.
MDG: How does MDG fit into this, and why do you like to work with MDG? I think you know the whole MDG range very well!
MDG has been the industry leader in all things haze and fog since I can remember. I most often describe MDG gear as the most important equipment on the show.
MDG: What tours and shows have you designed and taken MDG with you?
It would be way easier to list the shows when I did not work with MDG! Those would be the shows when no stage haze / fog was used. Any other show, which might be at least 90% of my productions, always used MDG.
MDG: Which have been your favourite shows to work on and why?
I’m so lucky to have many, many favourite projects in my bag of memories, that choosing a couple is not an easy task at all. But I would have to mention the whole 30-year collaboration with choreographer Tero Saarinen, a couple of Cirque du Soleil productions, the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm, all productions with the amazing Boston Ballet, the ongoing production design for Wagner’s Ring Cycle for the Finnish National Opera, many productions with the Finnish National Ballet, The Snow Queen ice ballet and, of course, the cherry on the cake is Swan Lake for the Royal Danish Ballet back in 2015.
There is one common thing in all of these productions that ties them together and that’s the great people I have had the privilege of working with. I remember these productions firstly because of the people I met, the friends I made, and only secondly by the result of the stage production.
MDG: What does the future hold for you?
Well, I’m working on the 3rd part of Wagner’s Ring Cycle, Siegfried, for the Finnish National Opera. We are opening at the end of March. There’s also a new collaboration with Tero Saarinen being planned. And I’m very much hoping for The Snow Queen ice ballet to tour in the future as it is such a special production.
In a wider picture the future holds designs for ballet, contemporary dance, opera, drama theatre, concerts and so on.