‘Ugly Duckling’ to light up Opera House stage

FAIRMONT – “Absolutely incredible,” raved Rolling Stone magazine about the creations Lightwire Theater brings to life on stage.

On Sunday, for a 3 p.m. matinee at Fairmont Opera House, the audience will have the opportunity to see what wowed fans across the country in 2012, when Lightwire Theater was the runner-up on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.

In a darkened Opera House, Lightwire Theater dancers will be almost invisible to the audience, except for the glowing creatures they wear, as they perform a modern take on the beloved children’s tale “The Ugly Duckling,” followed by “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Four dancers will perform the stories, wearing battery-operated electroluminescent wire sculpted into the shape of the creatures they depict.

“You’d be amazed what you can do with four people,” said Eleanor Carney.

Eleanor Carney has been with Lightwire Theater since its inception. Her husband, Ian Carney, created the company with Corbin Popp. The three have danced professionally with ballet companies around the world, but Lightwire shows require more from their dancers than most ordinary productions.

“I stay away from the word puppetry sometimes,” said Eleanor. “That is what we do but people think of puppetry as something different. What we do, it’s light, it’s puppetry, it’s dance, it’s technology, it’s somehow all of those things brought together.”

With many of the costumes, the dancers are wearing their creature’s body, so when the dancer moves her leg, the creature moves its leg, but there’s more to it than that.

“They don’t have facial expressions like we do, but we spent a great deal of time with video, trying to make something come to life, to be believable, trying to make it look as organic as possible,” Eleanor said, speaking from a dancer’s perspective. “It doesn’t always feel comfortable and what you think may look right doesn’t always look right. You’re trying to make what you’re wearing look like a dinosaur, or a cat, or a bird. It’s something dancers usually catch on to quickly.”

Extensive training is involved for each dancer, not just to learn the choreography – much of which is done with little light for the dancers to see. Each dancer must also learn how to operate the multiple costumes they will wear during a show.

“Every single costume you’re dealing with multiple switches, with dimmers … You’re dealing with a full technical side of the work, and you have to also dance at the same time, with the 20-pound battery packs that you’re wearing,” Eleanor said.

“It’s challenging, but what’s interesting … is you can erase the dancer. It is up to the dancer’s movements to bring the creature’s movements to life. And the outcome, the visual, is really, really cool,” she said.

Every costume is custom-made by the Lightwire cast, often using recycled materials and supplies from home improvement stores, skateboard equipment, fishing gear.

“We make everything from scratch, from the ground up – even the electrical boxes,” Eleanor said. “We’re not just a bunch of hired people coming to town. Everything on stage was made by us. That’s always interesting, when you don’t have a big budget.”

Lightwire Theater is currently touring the country with three shows, all of which are suitable for children through adults. Eleanor recommends “The Ugly Duckling” for ages 4 and up.

“People have really, really fallen in love with that character,” she said, emphasizing the importance of emotionally engaging an audience.

“The visuals are interesting and cool, but that really only gets you so far,” she said. “If people aren’t invested in the characters of the story, they’re not going to want to sit for an hour.”

Tickets to see the performance at Fairmont Opera House are $10. Call (507) 238-4900 or go online to www.fairmontoperahouse.com to purchase seats.

For more information about the show, visit lightwiretheater.com