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Lightwire is coming to Bemidji: A light show set for March 16 at the Bemidji High School Auditorium

Laser-light shows have come a long way since the ’90s, when characters carried neon or LED lights to convey a story.

Now, the costumes carry all the lights (known as electroluminescent wire, or ELW) and the actors look like aliens from outer space.

But that’s when the lights are on; in a darkened theater space with a black stage, the actors appears as giant birds, felines, dinosaurs, and just about any kind of animal one can imagine. And that is the trick when watching “Lightwire: The Show,” sit back in your seat, free your imagination and follow the story of an exiled young bird and his extraordinary powers.

In a major fundraising effort, the United Way of Bemidji and the Sanford Center are joining forces with First National Bank Bemidji for the premiere of “Lightwire: The Show” at 5 p.m. March 16 at the Bemidji High School Auditorium.

“This is our most ambitious show to date,” said Eleanor B. Carney, director and co-founder of Lightwire, which is based in New Orleans. “It is a longer piece that incorporates all genres of music and is a combination of dance technology and puppetry…we have to ‘tell’ a storyline from beginning to end without words…we speak through movement. All storylines are done in five-minutes in our earlier shows. This is our first show with an intermission. We are at the beginning of a tour that takes us from Washington State to Florida.”

In the show, the exiled bird goes off on his own adventure, making friends with an outcast warrior cat and other forest creatures. Together they work to save the planet from an alien species that seeks to destroy the world and all the creatures in it. In all, 60 “larger than light” characters react to the music — classical to pop in an epic adventure — with a team of nine dancers.

All of the performers in the show are former ballet dancers who know the vocabulary of dance (French) while rehearsing and brushing-up on pieces. The dancers wear black overlaid with wires and lights in the form of batteries, mostly 9-volt and double AA and headgear reminiscent of Star Wars characters.

“We are in control of our switches; we form exoskeletons when creating a character,” said Carney, “remembering the choreography is the easy part for as ballet dancers we are used to telling stories and creating characters through movement. Everyone is familiar with the story of ‘Coppelia,’ ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and ‘The Nutcracker,’ all stories told without words, only movement.”

Eleanor and her husband, Ian Carney, the creator, director and choreographer of the shows are the founders of the company. In forming the company, the Carneys, who were just off a long run on Broadway in “Movin’ Out,” a musical conceived by musician, composer and singer Billy Joel and choreographer Twyla Tharp. Corbin Popp, co-creator of Lightwire, was also finishing his contract for “Movin’ Out.” Then Carney and Popp started thinking outside the box and came up with the idea of stories using “dazzling visuals, poignant storytelling and musical scores designed to evoke imagery” in much the same way as the great ballets are performed, they said.  

Lightwire Theater’s first collaboration was “Dinolight,” a family-friendly show that still tours nationally and internationally. The second show, the “Ugly Duckling” is on the road now with their touring company. They have performed extensively in the western world and plan on visiting China in the near future.

Lightwire Theater was a semi-finalist on “America’s Got Talent” in 2012 and most recently performed at Ferrari Motors “Race as Fast as Light” in Abu Dhabi and again scored as finalist for “The Best le Meilleur Artiste” in Paris. They returned to the states for the holidays and scored another hit in their hometown of New Orleans with the Christmas show “Lightwire: A very Electric Christmas.”