To be audience to “iLuminate: the most fun you’ll ever have in the dark” is to know you’re in the presence of a gimmick. But as far as gimmicks go, it is pretty fun.
This troop of nine dancers, finalists in 2011’s “America’s Got Talent” T.V. competition, put on a 90-minute show in a completely dark theatre that appears to be video game meets animated cartoon meets live dance performance.
Wearing glow-in-the-dark costumes that light up to outline characters’ belts, sleeves, hair, and accessories, the nuance of dance (sinews, extensions, pointed feet, expressivity of body and face) is largely lost, giving way to a technologically-enhanced light show in which bigger, bolder, more angular dance styles such as hip hop and breakdance have a more powerful effect than the smattering of classical ballet, lyrical and contemporary moves that lose their luster without full embodiment.
However, to an audience made up largely of children and their parents at Miller Auditorium, this fantastical tale (written by Director/Producer Miral Kotb, a dancer and computer scientist, and Athena Sunga) of when a young artist whose magic paintbrush is stolen and used for evil must face a villain without his magic powers to save his town and friends was high entertainment.
The storyline is aided tremendously by a voiceover and the depiction of characters’ names in lights rather than real character development and plot, and the amusement largely comes from the high energy and familiarity of the loud and lively pop songs to which they dance — from a montage of Michael Jackson tunes and borrowed dance moves to Bruno Mars to Vevo to Janet Jackson and Aretha Franklin — arranged by Justin “Kanobby" Keith and Christopher Tignor.
The innovation comes largely from the illusion created with lights, and for many this was utterly delightful. Whether it diminishes or enhances the project of live dance performance was largely beside the point, particularly for the 4-year-old brought onto the stage for a button-pushing game for which she won her very own rainbow-lit mohawk tiara.
And the light show with dance moves would likely have a much more profound effect in a night club and without the goofy storyline, but then it wouldn’t be such a lucrative family-friendly sell-out auditorium show.
The unreal sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic is an appealing one, as is the pop score that makes everybody want to dance. But it’s humans dancing and the power of what the human form can do that goes missing in this show. Ironically, beneath the glow suits and the light show are very real, very talented humans dancing their cyborg characters’ hearts out — but no one actually sees them or that part of their artistry until the full house-lights-up curtain call, which is the best part of the whole show.