Rubicon Theater Company and Music2Life’s launch of a week-long concert series celebrating songwriters of the past and future included Grammy nominee Perla Battala (a long-time associate of Leonard Cohen and Ojai-based solo artist), George Grove (The Kingston Trio), Grammy nominated Scottish songwriter Dave Gibson (known for his work with Country artists Tim McGraw and Faith Hill), Tony nominee and LADCC winner Dan Wheetman of Marley's Ghost, and many more. The inaugural concert titled “Looking Back/Moving Forward: Peter and Paul in Concert” featured five-time Grammy Award-winner and festival curator Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul, and Mary. Lighting and production designer Ning Ji was enlisted to conjure the perfect visual complement to this star-studded event celebrating songwriters of the past, present, and future.
Ji carefully created a design around each of the diverse artists and their well-known hit songs, focusing on unique attributes and diversity with a goal of being welcoming and nostalgic. In contrast to the enormous and curt attention spans of the concerts of many contemporary artists, Ji’s idea was to have frequent changes that hold the crowd’s attention and relate to the songs but not to be oppressive or jarring. Ning’s extensive work in theater made these subtle transitions in the concert medium intuitive for her. Every movement was planned to coordinate with that of the performers onstage.
Ning’s renowned in the industry is not only in regards to her impressive skill but also to that of her unique reference point. She attributes many of her inclinations to the work of painter Archibald Motley. She states, “I love how saturate he uses colors; the reds are always so strong and stand out as if he put some tiny special light on the red color to make it pop. Motley is known for his use of African-American subject matter in a style and tone which pushed the envelope compared to his contemporaries. His work could range from serene to unsettling in the very definition of an artistic temperament. Cultivating one’s own personal style is how you evolve as an artist, whether that be as a musician, painter, or lighting designer.”
The audience’s reception to “Looking Back/Moving Forward: Peter and Paul in Concert” was decidedly as thunderous as one would expect for those witnessing such an award-winning and lauded group of artists. While the artists themselves basked in the appreciation of the crowd, it was Ning Ji who was on the receiving end of praise from these artists themselves who recognized and respected her talent to propel their performances on stage that very evening. As long as there are those who appreciate live music and entertainment, there will be highly skilled professionals like Ning Ji who enables them to fascinate fans everywhere.