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BU hosts 20th Aurora Borealis: A Festival of Light and Dance

The Boston University Dance Theater was filled with dance, lights, smiles and great energy Monday night as the College of Fine Arts School of Theatre and the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance put on the 20th annual “Aurora Borealis: A Festival of Light and Dance” shows. There were eight separate performances ranging from hip-hop to jazz with lights that complemented the tone of the dances.

Two dancers perform in “Aurora Borealis: A Festival of Light and Dance.” The Boston University School of Theatre and the Department of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance put on the 20th annual production Monday, comprising eight separate performances ranging from hip-hop to jazz. COURTESY OF ANDREW BRILLIANT

“It’s a celebration of creativity, collaboration, curiosity and conversation between two forms, in this case between lightning and dance,” said Yo-EL Cassell, the artistic co-director of the show and assistant professor of movement in SoT. “It’s always a joy and a great gift.”

Qian Chengyuan, a third-year grad student in CFA and a lighting designer for six of the performances, worked with choreographers to find the best lights to match each dance.

“Discussing my reaction, my feeling and my idea with them is really important,” Chengyuan wrote in an email. “I will make decisions like color, gobo, or light base[d] on our conversation.”

Micki Taylor-Pinney, director of dance and the other artistic co-director of “Aurora Borealis,” has been a part of the annual program since the very beginning 20 years ago. The idea came to her and a colleague when they were having a discussion about collaborating with CFA lighting designers.

“We used both students as well as faculty and professional dancers to create a program with the specific goal that lighting designers would have a chance to have conversations and discussions,” she said. “It was an opportunity for the lighting designers to create this visual scape.”

For this year’s show, the lighting designers worked with material from their classes, Taylor-Pinney said. This included independent studies performances, directed studies in composition and a 10-minute finale piece titled “Class Work” from BU dance instructor Jossie Coleman that blends jazz, funk, hip-hop and Afro-fusion.

The performance titled “Blemish” was choreographed by CFA sophomores Christine Dvorak and Hampton Richards, with lighting design by Chengyuan. The piece opened with a vibrant pink backdrop that silhouetted the first of three dancers.

“[‘Blemish’] was really about the perception of ourselves versus the perception of what other people perceive us to be, essentially,” Richards said. “It was so fun to see that come to life, which is amazing. I was like, ‘This is the vision exactly.’”

“Just Passing Through” was performed and choreographed by Ivan Walks, a senior in CFA. His first original choreography “was an exploration of finding balance spiritually, physically, mainly in the container of external chaos,” he said.

“Movement is very important to me, and it was beautiful to explore that in front of a live audience,” Walks said. “The audience was great, all the other performers were amazing, it was a great environment. I loved it.”

Alan Kuang, a sophomore in CFA, was in three of the performances, including “towards You,” a duet with Emma Weller, “Paean for Ted,” a four-man performance from the play “Colossal” that SoT performed recently, and the large group dance “Class Work.”

“Our piece is about love, and it’s about the relationship, and all the highs and lows of a romance,” Kuang said about “towards You.” “I think we just really wanted to tell a story through movement.”

During the last performance, he said there was high energy from the audience, and the dancers “really feed off of that energy.”

Audience members Ethan Strauther and Samara Fair, both seniors in the College of Engineering, came to support their friends who were in the show. Strauther said there was “a lot of variety” in the dances, and everyone was “very talented.”

“I connected with the end just because it gave energy, and I give a lot of energy,” Strauther said. “I was popping in my seat.”

Fair said she liked the performance of the “Paean for Ted” from the “Colossal,” performed earlier this semester at the Fringe Festival.

“I just loved the energy that was given,” she said. “You’re really brought into the story.”

Taylor-Pinney said the choreographers and lighting designers came together to create a “dramatic universe,” and the show was a “celebration.”

“We call it ‘Aurora Borealis,’ and it’s just the wonder that you can see, that you can feel when you put together movement, dance, lighting and sound,” Taylor-Pinney said. “Each piece will feel specific and may touch [the audience] in some way.”

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