John B Read ~ Lighting Designer

Artists of The Royal Ballet in 'Gloria'.   Kenneth MacMillan's powerful evocation of the horrors of war is set to Francis Poulenc's poignant score.   Lighting by John B Read

Date: ca 2012
Photographer: Unknown, ©Royal Opera House

The Two Pigeons, Ashton’s two-act ballet on the nature of love is a masterpiece of gentle humour and pathos. Lighting by John B Read

Date: ca2012
Photographer: Unknown, ©Royal Opera House

Rite of Spring
Members of The Royal Ballet in Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring'.  Lighting design by John B Read.

Date: ca2012
Photographer: Unknown, ©Royal Opera House

John B Read

John B Read

Date: ca 2010
Photographer: Unknown, ©Royal Opera House and John B Read

John B. Read is one of the most distinguished lighting directors working in dance. He was consultant lighting designer to The Royal Opera, The Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet 1992–2005. His many original lighting designs for The Royal Ballet include Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody and The Dream, Anthony Dowell’s staging of Swan Lake, Natalia Makarova’s staging of La Bayadère and Kenneth MacMillan’s The Prince of the Pagodas, The Rite of Spring, Gloria and Romeo and Juliet, and for The Royal Opera, Götz Friedrich’s production of Der Ring des Nibelungen, in addition to many redesigns for revivals.

Read was born in Burnham-on-Crouch and trained at the Rose Bruford College. He made his US debut in 1974 on the American premiere of Death in Venice at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, followed by designs for The Magic Flute at the National Arts Centre.

Returning to Britain, Read lit Aida for English National Opera, as well as working for many other companies, including Scottish Ballet and Scottish Opera. For Scottish Opera he lit Don Giovanni 1973 (designed by Peter Ustinovi) Ariadne on Naxos 1975 (designed by Peter Rice) and Peter Grimes 1980 (designed by Alix Stone.)

He has worked with ballet companies around the world, including La Scala, Milan, Stanislavsky Theatre Moscow, and in Stuttgart, Berlin, Vienna, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo and the Netherlands, as well as for Canadian National Ballet, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Houston, San Francisco, K Ballet Japan, Rambert Dance Company, London City Ballet and London Festival Ballet. His work has also been seen in the West End and at the National Theatre.

Read has worked with many leading choreographers, including David Bintley, Ulysses Dove, Wayne Eagling, Alastair Marriott, Rudolf Nureyev, Ashley Page, Jerome Robbins, Glenn Tetley and Antony Tudor.

[Text based, in part, on a biography published by the Royal Opera House and information published at Opera]

Read's practice was influential in the approach adopted in lighting some productions by Ayr Intimate Opera and the Compass Club.

The Royal Ballet's production of 'The Prince of the Pagodas'.   Choreography by Kenneth Macmillan, music by Benjamin Britten, designs by Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting design by John B Read.

Date: 2012
Photographer: ©Elliott Franks

Jonathan Howells, Téo Dubreuil, Donald Thom, Nicol Edmonds, Tristan Dyer and Tomas Mock in 'The Dream'.  The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden,   Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Design by David Walker and Lighting designer John B. Read

Date: 2014
Photographer: Bill Cooper. © ROH. Bill Cooper.

Mayerling by the Royal Ballet.   Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, designer Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting design John B. Read

Date: 2009
Photographer: Bill Cooper.  © ROH / Bill Cooper.

bJohn B. Read

bJohn B. Read is generally considered to be one of the most outstanding lighting designers working internationally in dance, opera, theatre and music stage.

Read worked widely as a freelance designer. He has worked with every major choreographer in London. Notable collaborations have been with Sir Frederick Ashton, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Antony Tudor, Glen Tetley, Jerome Robbins, Rudolf Nureyev, Anthony Dowell, David Bintley, Ronald Hynd, Wayne Eagling, Ulysses Dove and Ashley Page. Works for Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet/Birmingham Royal Ballet include Papillon, The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Median, The Snow Queen, Allegri diversi and One by Nine. For The Royal Ballet, his works include Field Figures, Laborintus, Voluntaries, Isadora, Requiem, Valley of Shadows, The Tempest, Varii Capricci, Fleeting Figures, Galanteries, The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast, Pursuit, The Prince of the Pagodas, Illuminations and the televised ballet tribute to H. M. Queen Elizabeth II, Fanfare for Elizabeth.

Abroad, Read has worked with the ballet companies of Munich, Stuttgart, Berlin, Paris, Lyon, Nancy, Copenhagen, Oslo, Gulbenkian in Portugal, Netherlands, two Israeli companies, the National Ballet of Canada, New York City Ballet, Houston, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Recently, his work for The Royal Ballet has been seen in Korea and Australia.

In the area of contemporary dance, Read works regularly with London Contemporary Dance, and designed the Royal Gala and a new Cohan work in 1985-1986. He worked with Dance Advance in the Summer of 1989.

For other British ballet companies -- Rambert Dance Company, London City Ballet, English National Ballet and the Scottish Ballet in particular -- Read’s designs have been seen both in Britain and abroad, as well as at the Sadler’s Wells and the Coliseum and Dominion theatre seasons in London. Much of his work has been televised or is available on video, including Manon, The Nutcracker, Galanteries, Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, Hobson’s Choice, La Bayadère and The Prince of the Pagodas.

In London’s West End, Read designed the lighting for On Your Toes with Natalia Makarova, The Nerd, The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Who Plays Wins. In 1990, he designed the lighting for the second West End and Manchester runs of Song and Dance. In 1991, he did his first lighting assignment, Stephen Berkoff’s adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial, for the Royal National Theatre.

His many opera credits include Goetz Freiderich’s Ring of the Niebelungen, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Anna Bolena, Tosca, and Die Meistersinger and La Cenerentola for The Royal Opera, Aida for the English National Opera, and many productions for the English Music Theatre and Opera groups. Other companies who have used Read’s lighting designs include the Prospect Theatre Company, the Greenwich Theatre, the Buxton Opera House and the Young Vic.

The lighting for The Dream is Read’s fourth work for American Ballet Theatre since Glen Tetley’s Gemini (1975) and The Rite of Spring (1976), and Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Anastasia (1999).

[©Text based on a biography published by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.]

Romeo ROH
The Royal Ballet dance Romeo and Juliet at the Royal Opera House.  Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, designer Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting designer John B. Read

Date: 2015

RomeoProkofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet': The Royal Ballet dance Romeo and Juliet at the O2 Arena.  Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, designer Nicholas Georgiadis and lighting designer John B. Read

Date: 2011
Photographer: Tristram Kenton.  Tristram Kenton and the Royal Ballet.

The scenery is minimal, just a parade of arches and stairs from Nicholas Georgiadis’s later touring redesign for the ballet, which needs the, for once, highly charged and chiaroscuro lighting of John B Read, normally the king of crepuscule.
Isemene Brown, The Arts Desk 2011

McMillan's Ballet 50 years on.

To mark both the launch of its Live Cinema Season 2015/16 and the fiftieth anniversary of Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Romeo and Juliet, The Royal Opera House arranged a live screening of a performance of the ballet for an invited audience at BAFTA in Piccadilly. The aim of the event was to promote the already increasingly popular screenings as a medium for watching opera and ballet, and of making these accessible to a wider audience. .  .   .

Kevin O’Hare described MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet as having, in 1965, a ‘new sense of drama and realism’. During one of the pre-performance interviews, the choreographer’s daughter, Charlotte, said: ‘It doesn’t rely on just the steps.’ Watching from a cinema, you do not breathe the same air as the dancers. You do not feel the vibration, in the air, of what they are doing. It is a visual experience; one in which there is a tendency for everything to become foreground. But, for the most part, Romeo and Juliet can bear the scrutiny of the camera. There is the music by Prokofiev. There are the rich and detailed costumes by Nicholas Georgiadis.  .   .    .

In her book, The Royal Ballet: 75 Years, dance critic Zoë Anderson writes: ‘…MacMillan did his best work for the central characters – the lovers, Romeo’s friends. His crowd scenes were padded out to fill the long stretches of Prokofiev’s score.’ This shows, especially when watching the ballet on a screen. Every face of the dramatically gesturing corps de ballet figures as prominently as those of the principals. Out of the ‘padding’, though, there emerges at least one startling moment. It is the solo by a light, fleet dancer with a remarkably pliant upper body. Unrecognizable at first behind the white face paint of a mandolin player in the Mandolin Dance, the dancer is James Hay.

Return to Designer List

Top  ~  Contact Us  ~  Cookies and Site Information  ~