By Barbara Curtin
May 4th, 2013
MONMOUTH — When the lights go out, a new world opens for Rainbow Dance Theatre.
Neon-traced owls flutter and seem to fly in the blackness of Rice Auditorium. Three serpents glide by, cobralike hoods flaring. Dancers vanish, reappear or change character in the blink of an eye.
“I love it, it’s so different,” said Amanda Parrino, who dances the lead female role in “The Owl and the Serpent,” a twist on the story of Adam and Eve. “I’ve never done anything like that.”
The 25-minute piece is just part of Western Oregon University’s Spring Dance Concert 2013 — an annual collaboration among WOU’s dance faculty, students and Rainbow Dance Theatre, a professional troupe in residence in Monmouth.
The program also includes tap, jazz, athletic movement and original works by five student choreographers and guest artist Paula Weber.
Rainbow Dance’s new piece achieves its mystery and surprise through electroluminescent wires that seem scribbled across the dancers’ bodies. Each dancer wears a black unitard crisscrossed by 350 feet of wires that will glow in yellow, red, blue and green. Each getup is powered by eight AA batteries and controlled from a computer offstage.
The suits cost $600 to $700 per person, paid for through grants and donations, including some from company co-artistic director Darryl Thomas. He’s had to add wire cutters and computer skills to his choreography toolbag to bring the piece to life.
Rainbow Dance introduced the technique on a simpler scale for its 2010 concert at the Historic Elsinore Theatre. Thomas has seen the effect used on televised talent shows and plays, but it’s still rare to see dance enhanced by electroluminencence.
“There’s probably nothing out there like this,” he said during a recent run-through on the darkened Rice Auditorium stage.
The technique challenges dancers to give up most visual cues and focus on a single light beyond the audience. An additional challenge is appearing graceful while carrying so much wire.
“As a dancer, I am so excited for them to see this from the audience perspective and to know the hard work and amazing technology that goes into it,” said Latoya Lovely, a full-time dancer with Rainbow Dance Theatre. Like several of the troupe’s members, she also teaches YMCA dance classes.
Carl Massey, who dances the lead male role, said that audiences may love or hate the new technique, but dance must evolve.
“The ballet we have today is nothing like what it was in the day,” he said. “I love seeing how things get better.”
Members will continue to tweak the work before taking it on tour.
WOU’s support has been key in the trail-and-error needed to develop the dance, said Valerie Bergman, who directs the company with Thomas.
That’s because WOU makes the stage available for weeks of rehearsals instead of the single day common in New York City, Bergman said.
“It’s a rare and special gift from WOU that makes this possible,” she said.