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Derek Hough Live!

Steve Jennings (Photos and Text) • July 2019Wide Focus • July 12, 2019

DEREK HOUGH LIVE 2019 © Steve Jennings

Latin and ballroom dancer, choreographer, actor, singer and musician Derek Hough, who rose to fame as a pro dancer on TV’s Dancing With The Stars — and whose dance partners were crowned winners for a record six seasons — has drawn big crowds to the live stage as well by teaming up with his sister Julianne Hough and presenting their Move Live On Tour and Move Beyond Live on Tour treks that ran from 2014-2017. This year, Hough is back on the road for his first solo trek, Live! The Tour, with a show direction/chorographical assist from longtime collaborators Napoleon and Tabitha Dumo, a.k.a. NappyTabs. We spoke with world-renowned lighting designer Peter Morse, who has worked with Hough previously, along with lighting director Emily Bornt, about the tour and its creative visual design.

Peter Morse
Lighting Designer
LD Peter Morse says Derek Hough had a very clear idea as far back as a year ago about what he wanted via production on his show. “Derek felt it was important that the entire story of each performance be displayed by the dancers’ work, let their choreography deliver the message, and certainly Derek’s grasp of what he wanted to produce, on stage. Fortunately for me, he did want a strong combination of theatrical looks, along with elements of strong contemporary lighting effects, right from the beginning.”

Faculty Management, and the tour producers contract a majority of their tours with RKDE, Ray Woodbury’s lighting company. Therefore Morse was not confronted with the process of bidding out a design to various vendors, then revising elements of the design in order to accommodate existing inventories. Instead, he’s informed of what is available within the inventory and what is obtainable as sub-hire — all predicated on the budget he is given for the tour.

“While this may simplify the process, it also creates some frustrating challenges, as I may not have the freedom to choose fixtures that I would normally prefer. However, it has forced me in some situations to broaden my palette and find ways of working with sources that I might not otherwise select, such as some hybrid fixtures. But in the end, my sights have ironically been expanded by the limited budget and truck space on the small theater tours such as this one. The lighting counts on this tour were quite low, however, given the challenge, the choices were carefully thought out in order to maximize the applications for each fixture. As a result, we minimize the ‘light show’ element and maximize the coverage of the dance — not with spotlights and broad key light, but instead with indirect (modeled) lighting that accentuates the bodies and the movement, drawing upon our experience with lighting contemporary performances.”

Lighting programmer Benny Kirkham and Morse have a long history of working together (as far back as Michael Jackson’s HIStory tour). They have developed a basic “shorthand” in communicating, which has become a necessity in the current mode of previz and minimal time for full-tech rehearsals and on-site programming. “Benny has a good understanding of my taste in color, movement, timing, and overall combination of looks. Benny works quickly, especially with time code as on this tour. This show was so well rehearsed in the dance studio, that we were able to previz off the videos shot of each run thru. Once we got to the real stage with full tech, it was a relatively simplified task to clean up the focuses and cues.”

Kley Tarcitano designed the set with multi levels. He specified Sceptrons for outlining and accenting the lines of the stage. Morse expanded upon that by adding more Sceptrons to the back wall of lighting. Emily Bornt used Resolume software to programmed these fixtures. “Between the vertically linear look of the Sceptrons, along with the horizontal source of the Elation ACL 360 Bars and the intermittent look of the Robe Spikies, all emanating from the same upstage lighting wall, we were able to produce a great variety of counterbalanced looks, while still maintaining focus on the dancers via the upstage and midstage Ghiblis and [Martin] MAC Hybrids, along with the low level torm washes provided by the MAC Auras. Kley’s set provided multiple levels of performance and interesting angles for illuminating.”

Morse adds that Derek’s tour was an absolute pleasure to work on. “From show directors NappyTabs (Napoleon and Tabitha Duomo) to Derek and his phenomenal dancers, to the tireless crew. Derek is a real gentleman, a true artist who loves his craft. That feeling trickles down through the entire team. Benny, Emily and I all loved the challenge of stretching the capability and range of application of the relatively small lighting system in order to create a collection of looks that reflected the great performances we were illuminating. Emily is dependable, hard working, and basically brilliant! [And] I frankly can’t recall ever seeing Benny being shown new programming shortcuts or tricks that he’d not been aware of. He and I are both in awe and have a very high degree of respect for her.”

Emily Bornt
Lighting Director
Emily Bornt started working with Morse back in December for the Dancing With the Stars live tour. She was in Europe on another tour last fall and started calling around to set up work for 2019. Jesse Blevins (a former DWTS LD) sent her info to Morse and Butch Allen. She had worked with Allen before (as a tech), and he was very excited to get Bornt on board as lighting director.

“I was still out on another tour when the producers approached me for this one,” Emily states. “I had a two-week break between the tours, then came in for the last few days of rehearsals and previz. Since our PM, Sean Bates, was the stage manager on DWTS, I had regular updates about production elements and design changes while we were still on the road, helping to make a seamless transition between the two productions.”

Hough had a fairly solid set list laid out. He had worked on it for a few months beforehand and had put a lot of thought into the content and flow of the show. “There were a few numbers that were cut to help with the general flow and for time. And there were only a few numbers that weren’t choreographed before we left previz in L.A. for tech rehearsals. There would be occasional small updates to tracks, but generally it was a pretty clean process.

“Working with Derek has been such a great experience. He is very aware of the technical aspects of the show and has been very involved with the design aspects since the show’s early stages. But he is also very trusting of his staff, which allows us to have honest conversations about how changing some elements of the show may impact others. Peter and Benny are just fantastic to work with — they’ve been working together for so long, it’s like watching a well-oiled machine at work. They turn out beautiful projects very quickly because of this. Faculty and NappyTabs were also great to work with, because they are able to express what they want very clearly and are trusting of the artists putting it together.”

Derek Hough Live! The Tour


  • Show Directors: NappyTabs
  • Lighting Designer: Peter Morse
  • Set Designer: Kley Tarcitano
  • Lighting Programmer: Benny Kirkham
  • Lighting Director: Emily Bornt
  • Lighting Co: RK Diversified Entertainment
  • RKDE Rep: Ray Woodbury
  • Lighting Crew Chief: Sam Raphael
  • Lighting Tech: Paul Sturgis
  • Tour Manager: Neil Rinden
  • Production Manager: Sean Bates
  • Stage Manager: Daniel Wates
  • Carpenter/Props: Ryan Beasley
  • Staging Co: Accurate Staging
  • Accurate Staging Rep: Jeff Llamas
  • Trucking Co: On Tour Logistics


  • 1       grandMA2 Light Console
  • 1       grandMA2 OnPC
  • 1       grandMA2 Command Wing
  • 8       Martin MAC Viper Performance
  • 10     Martin MAC Viper Profile
  • 7       Martin MAC Axiom Hybrid
  • 8       Ayrton Ghiblis
  • 23     Martin MAC Aura XB
  • 18     Robe Spikies
  • 18     Elation ACL 360 Bars
  • 18     Philips Color Kinetic ColorBlast TRX
  • 1       Reel EFX DF-50 Hazer
  • 33     Martin VDO Sceptron 10 1000
  • 1       Resolume Arena 6
  • 1       Martin P3 System Controller

More Derek Hough Live tour photos by Steve Jennings:

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