Lighting designer Alexander V. Nichols works with the best: His résumé boasts Metallica, Hugh Jackman, the San Francisco Ballet and other heavy-hitting dance names such as Bill T. Jones, Mark Morris and American Ballet Theatre.
“I have a special affinity for dance,” says Nichols, who is working with Margaret Jenkins Dance Company on the troupe’s 40th anniversary piece “Times Bones,” which previews this weekend at the Jewish Community Center.
“I grew up in the corner of a dance studio, so I just fell right into it,” says Nichols, whose mother — Sally Streets, former artistic director of Berkeley Ballet Theater — used to teach ballet classes in the basement of their Berkeley home. (Nichols’ sister is Kyra Nichols, a celebrated, recently retired New York City Ballet dancer.)
In his late teens, Nichols helped his mom with lighting and sets for BBT, and later studied theater staging arts at San Francisco State University. Soon he was lighting up venues such as The Stone and The Old Waldorf during Metallica’s early days.
“I have lost enough hearing to remember those days well,” Nichols laughs. “I love the power and force behind rock ’n’ roll lighting, and I always try and find some way to bring some of that intensity.”
While Margaret Jenkins’ works are a far cry from a Metallica show, Nichols’ relationship with the veteran Bay Area choreographer goes almost as far back; their first collaboration was in 1986.
Created to celebrate MJDC’s 40th anniversary in 2013, “Times Bones” explores Jenkins’ reflections on four decades of dance making in an installation in which the audience follows the dancers.
This week, it will start in the Jewish Community Center’s three-story Pottruck Family Atrium before moving to the Kanbar Hall stage. A similar arrangement will be used when the completed work is presented at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts next year.
“I think the seeds are planted for a very beautiful, moving work for Margie’s 40th anniversary,” Nichols says. “She has an interesting group of dancers and they’re doing some beautiful work.”
Nichols, who created lighting and projections for big shows such as “Hugh Jackman, Back on Broadway,” enjoys the ongoing challenges involved in working with a contemporary dance company.
“It’s more process-oriented,” Nichols says. “I find working with people like Margie goes from the seed of movement on up to creation, and I find the process leads to more unexpected results than working in more formal theaters.”