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Spotlight: Lightwire Theater 

Will Coviello on the troupe that's gone from America's Got Talent back to the Contemporary Arts Center

click to enlarge Lightwire Theater presents its version of The Ugly Duckling.
  • Lightwire Theater presents its version of The Ugly Duckling.

Ian Carney, cofounder and artistic director of Lightwire Theater, was particularly glad New Orleanians got power restored following Hurricane Isaac. The company reached the semifinals of NBC's America's Got Talent and was fortunate to appear on the program's Sept. 4 and 6 broadcasts, allowing locals to vote. Had the group been scheduled for the prior week, when much of the region was without power, many locals would not have been able to view the program or vote online.

  Since its debut at the program's St. Louis auditions, Lightwire Theater wowed judges Howard Stern, Sharon Osbourne and Howie Mandel. As the group advanced through several rounds of competition over the summer, it took characters from its two shows, Darwin the Dinosaur and The Ugly Duckling, and used them to create vignettes using dance, light and illusion. On a darkened stage, electrically lit dinosaurs battled each other, flowers sprouted and danced and ducks left the nest.

  At the semifinals on Sept. 6, Lightwire Theater found itself in a head-to-head battle with David Garibaldi and his CMYKs, an artist who creates instant paintings along with a team of dancing assistants. Osbourne and Mandel split their votes and it came down to Stern, who gave the nod to Garibaldi to advance to the finals.

  Lightwire Theater comes home to New Orleans and will debut its full Ugly Duckling show at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC).

  "We're excited to come back to the CAC," Carney says. "It's an intimate house."

  The core of Lightwire Theater comes from the foundation of CORBiAN Visual Arts and Dance, a company formed by Ian Carney, wife Eleanor Carney and Corbin and Whitney Popp. Ian and Corbin met while dancing professionally in Twyla Tharp's Broadway show Movin' Out.

  The two performers were interested in creating a new kind of stage drama using special lighting materials. They designed their first costumes for Darwin the Dinosaur, a drama performed on a dark stage with the figures outlined in electroluminescent wires. There's no dialogue, and the company members rely on their dance backgrounds to visually relate the story of a dinosaur, a scientist and a rogue T-Rex named Brutus.

  That show was well-received and the company set out to do The Ugly Duckling using the same approach. The group created its own version of the story, but Ian notes that many people don't know the original version by Hans Christian Andersen.

  "We take our own twists with it," Carney says. "Everyone knows the idea of it. I don't think everyone knows the story. People know what Disney fed us, but if you read the story it's different. The message of The Ugly Duckling is that if you come from a great family and you are beautiful, life will be easy for you. I think children need more from the story. Our Duckling is a little different."

  Their production includes two tales, a modern version of Aesop's Tortoise and the Hare and The Ugly Duckling. In the Tortoise story, they have updated the Hare's carelessness to feature some contemporary distractions, such as texting. The show debuted in January in Austin, Texas, and has been on tour since then. After more than 130 performances, it will have its New Orleans debut at the CAC. In October, Lightwire will perform the show in Russia.

  The group also is looking at new opportunities.

  "We're seeing a lot more interest since the last round (of America's Got Talent)," Carney says. "It's starting to fill in holes in tours. We're trying to expand past just theatrical shows. We'll do industry things. Maybe we'll follow the Blue Man Group model. That was a small thing that started in Astor Plaza (in New York) and just exploded."

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