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Perhaps Boston University’s School of Theatre, School of Music, lighting design majors, and dance programs, in realizing the sad state of the winter psyche, strategically timed the sixth performance of the Aurora Borealis Festival. Opening night fell just at the end of a long February and the beginning of an even longer March, and for about two hours, winter felt a little more bearable as the wait for spring felt a little less tedious.

Aurora Borealis 6: A Festival of Light and Dance, a dance, movement, text and light visual exploration, provided a needed shot of humor and novelty. While there were late starts, chatty BU undergraduates in the audience, fallen props, and other casualties of live performances, the audience, made largely of grey haired women in Talbot blazers, left more cheerful than they came. Like looking up at the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Polar Lights, the eight pieces that made up this festival provided a momentary distraction of light and color, a stay against the cold and against the dark.

Since its inception, the festival has developed into a four-day annual contemporary dance event co-directed by Judith Chaffe, Associate Professor of Theatre at BU’s College of Fine Arts, and Micki Taylor-Pinney, BU’s dance program director.

After a false start – the curtain rose but there was no one home – Nicole Tomeo, a senior film major who has danced with the Walt Disney Company, stood silhouetted in the frame of an open door. For her piece, titled “An Entrance to Somewhere Else,” she proceeded to stretch and poise to “Eon Blue Apocalypse” by Tool in a way that no doorframe has ever experienced before. Her sinewy performance should not be duplicated by civilians in the kitchen doorway without an ice pack and a personal trainer nearby. Tomeo certainly made her point clear: What does a door represent? A way in? A way out?

Micki Taylor-Pinney choreographed the other highlight of the first act, “Urban Birds.” The high energy and deadpan fashion-model stares of the piece’s dancers more than made up for lapses in synchronization. It opened with eight girls on stage making slow flamingo-like motions in bright costumes to the measured voice of the Peterson Field Guide Birding by Ear. When the music broke to the bubbling sound of “Nica’s Dreams” by United Future Organization, the dancers became every kind of bird one might see on Boston Common - geese, ducks, and pigeons – or, for that matter, on Fifth Avenue – socialites, fashionistas, and under-dressed preteens. The audience laughed, the dancers fluttered, and in the next performance, “A Play Without Words,” performer Rosie Moss kept the humor going.

The second act included two performers in tutus dancing to Justine Timberlake, boxes with legs, mad scientists and spotlights on the audience. With the seats behind me vacated – the occupants had finally left to get a much talked about drink – the second half was both easier to hear and intriguing to see.

In “Paradigms,” the lighting, designed by Judith Chaffee and Uli Praeger, was the true performer. At one moment the piece’s five dancers had only their ankles lit-up as they twisted and turned like prisoners in shackles. Throughout their performance, the barely-illuminated dancers clasped circular orbs in their hands and moved them ritualistically throughout the piece, as if worshipping a pagan sun god.

“The Five Box Symbols,” recalled all the times you built forts out of abandoned packing boxes. With as much fun as it looked like the dancing boxes on stage were having, the piece made you wish you could still play in one yourself.

The evening closed with “Reversible Spontaneous Combustion,” a quirky dance piece where the performers moved about in neon tights and lab coats and walked hard on their heals - like pensive geniuses tend to do. The failed experiments of the mad scientists on stage showed what could happen when an idea - even in the name of science – gets out of control.

There should have been more people in the audience for opening night – so many empty velvet seats must be disheartening. But then again, perhaps since it was a Thursday and below freezing, people waited until the weekend to see the light of Aurora Borealis and when they did I bet it made them smile.

Aurora Borealis 6: A Festival of Light and Dance ran from February 28 through March 2, 2008 at the Boston Center for the Arts' Calderwood Pavilion.

All images by Pete Wishnok.

Boston Theatre Scene

Boston University College of Fine Arts

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