Dark stages and black-costumed, illuminated performers are certainly nothing new. Spiritualists and magicians have been doing this kind of stuff for more than a hundred years--my friend Todd Robbins showed a great example just a couple years ago here in NYC with his fantastic show Play Dead. In addition, there are long traditions of "Black Light Theatre" in the Czech Republic and other places around the world. But last night, I saw this idea taken up to a new level with my friend Miral Kotb's unique and excellent new show Artist of Light at the Duke on 42nd street.
I've written about Miral and her very cool iluminate™ (pronounced "eye-luminate") art/technology here before, as I was cheering her on as she progressed through the ranks of America's Got Talent in 2011 (she made it to the final four--which is quite an accomplishment--but a car wash guy from West Virginia who sings Frank Sinatra songs won). If you missed them on AGT, the basic idea of iluminate is that black-costumed dancers are outfitted with wirelessly-controlled, electro-luminescent lights and LED's, and both the dancer's moves and the lights are tightly synchronized with the sound track. Miral, with her unique background both in choreography and serious programming (she was a software engineer at Bloomberg) has combined art, science and boundless creativity to make not just a new brush, but instead a whole new canvas.
To see what I'm talking about, you should spend less than two minutes and watch this video:
I'm often baffled by dance performances. While I'm impressed by the physicality and performance, I often feel like the dancers are speaking in a language that I don't understand. But last night, I followed the story from the outset. Some of that, of course, is due to the show's relatively simple story line, which will work for audiences old and young (although dance snobs won't likely like it, since the show draws a lot from street dance forms, popular dance music and even dubstep). But I also think a lot of that story communication is due to the unique world created by the show's technology. While Artist of Light is very different than the last dance piece I raved about--Chunky Move's Mortal Engine (my writeup on that great show here)--it's also very similar in that the technology never comes off as a gimmick or gets in the way. Instead, the technology is integral to the storytelling, and is used as conduit for the show's emotional communication (the goal of all live performance for me).
The dancers and dance are impressive, and control geeks will also be impressed by the incredible amount of precision involved in the programming and execution, and will have difficulty imagining how many thousands of hours it must have taken to get all this stuff to work at the level I saw onstage last night.
As someone who has studied technology and worked in show business for so long, it's pretty rare that I'm surprised by anything on a stage. But last night I was continually and pleasantly surprised by what I saw, and I think you will be too. The show runs until January 4th, buy a ticket now and go see it!