Language of Light blends dance, music and creative lighting |

Language of Light blends dance, music and creative lighting

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad The Aspen Times

ASPEN Loren Wilder learned, early on in her college career, that being onstage didnt quite suit her. She loved the theater, but didnt at all like the process that got actors their roles.I thought everyone treated the auditions like they were already in Hollywood, she said. It was a big turn-off.So Wilder focused her creative energies backstage. After finishing her undergraduate work at Western Washington University, in Bellingham, she joined the graduate department at Detroits Wayne State University, where the program centered around the Hilberry Theatre, an almost entirely student-run repertory theater. Wilder earned her graduate degree in lighting and set design, and in 1988 the native of Lancaster, Calif., a city an hours drive north of Los Angeles, moved to the Roaring Fork Valley to become the scenic and lighting designer for Snowmass Repertory Theatre. When that company went curtains three years later, Wilder took a variety of jobs that included a decade doing lights at the Wheeler Opera House, and simultaneously operating her own event-oriented company, LB Design.While Wilder spent her time outside of the spotlights, she was driven by a desire to make a genuine mark on the productions she was involved with. The years at the Wheeler were enlightening, she says, not just because she got to work with the likes of Lyle Lovett and Linda Ronstadt, but because she allowed herself to become part of the creative process.I could do whatever I wanted, unless the artist had specific requests, said Wilder. I was allowed to really express myself, and overcome my fear of laying lights and being another character onstage. You really are a character, and that takes courage to express what youre doing, not just sitting on your hands saying, Lyle Lovetts too big for me. You have to jump in and be somebody.Wilders favorite memories at the Wheeler, where she stopped working regularly in 2002, werent those that involved crossing creative paths with the big names. In fact, it was the lowest-profile shows the class plays by the Aspen Country Day School and the Aspen Community School that stand out. The formula seems to be, the less experienced the cast, the more freedom the in-house lighting designer gets. And Wilder reveled in creative freedom.They didnt require much more than me bringing to it whatever I wanted, she said. So they were almost like cartoon frames colorful and whimsical and bright.Given that overflowing creativity, its no surprise that Wilder has been champing to express herself with elements other than lighting. Her new show The Language of Light may feature the word in the title, but the performance, which debuts this weekend at the Aspen District Theatre, isnt so much about light as about other performance elements. The central component is dance. The Language of Light features 57 dancers, and multiple choreographers, including David Taylor, whose eponymous, Denver-based company is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Other choreographers contributing segments include DeAnna Anderson of the Glenwood Dance Academy, Fran Page of the Aspen Dance Connection, and Heather Starr of Dance Progressions.The show also features the local high-school rock-band Slightly White, playing John Lennons Instant Karma; a soundtrack of taped rock hits by Tom Petty, Peter Gabriel and others; and video footage. And of course, lights. Describing the show as a light show on top of a dance show, Wilder, who turns 50 this week, says this is her gift to herself a gift to go wild with lights.Ive always wanted to be a little more unleashed in my approach to what I do with my lights, she said. Thankfully I have a lot of dancers and choreographers who have allowed me to put a lot of light onto what they do. So things will hopefully be more linked than they are in a dance performance.I remember when I started in the business, you could use only pink and blue, and a certain pink and blue, on a ballet performance. It was very strict. And Ive found myself over the years very attracted to very saturated, bright, deep color.In addition to the technical elements, The Language of Light has Wilder dipping her toe into narrative. Several years ago, when she first got the itch to create a show from top to bottom, she looked into getting the rights to The Mists of Avalon, the 1982 novel by Marion Zimmer Bradley that told the story of King Arthur through the legends female characters.When that idea proved prohibitively expensive, Wilder began accumulating bits and pieces of story, movement and more ephemeral concepts. For music, she imagined something along the lines of the New Age guitar music of Japanese-born, Colorado-based Kitaro esoteric and strange, as she now describes it. One day, when she was working with the music website Finetune, she pulled up some rock songs while a meditation CD played in the background. Something clicked not just musically, but for the bigger picture.It was this moment of peanut butter and chocolate: Oh, this is interesting Tom Petty, U2, good old rock n roll stuff, with the meditation stuff in the background.And in this other part of my brain, I was playing with this chakras idea. And a little later I saw, Oh yeah, this is the soundtrack.The narrative in The Language of Light, loose though it is, traces the chakras, the Indian notion of the forces that animate the physical body. Wilder finds a connection between the chakras, light and life, an idea she expresses on the shows opening sequence.Its a let there be light moment that were all light beings, that we all come from light. Because I love light. Im all wrapped up in light, she said. Lets say there was a big bang, and the explosion sent pieces of light into the universe and those bits of light became humans. I find a way to express that in my story. Its like a waking meditation. We have a guide, a voice, that asks you to buy into the idea that youre being taken through your own chakras.The final sequence brings the flesh into the act. Wilder, who has left behind the mainstream Christianity with which she was raised, finds it appropriate to meld the spirit of the chakras with the physical world of the body.In my upbringing, religious upbringing, spirit has always been emphasized, and the flesh was always being repressed, she said. Youre always taught youre supposed to reign in the flesh. But I dont think they necessarily meant that; I think they meant the ego.But in my journey, Ive seen that spirit and flesh are equal. We shouldnt be working one against the other. We dont need to make them one. They already are one.Despite the spiritual themes, Wilder says she doesnt intend for The Language of Light to be like going to a meditation. Or if it is, she says, it would be an unusually loud meditation. Whether it is seen as a spiritual event, she said, depends on the viewer.It could be seen just as a dance. But its a fun way to observe and talk about the spirit, she added.Whether it will be fun confining herself to the role of lighting designer in the future is unclear.The years have gone by, and I find doing plays extremely boring, to be honest, said Wilder, who also works with Theatre Aspen, Aspen Community Theatre, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center and other groups, and does architectural lighting designs as well. I dont have the passion for scripted work. Ive done it so much. Im ready for something else. Ready to find a way to push my own boundaries. And I think Ive found the limits with this show, she added, noting that The Language of Light could well turn out to be the first act in a three-act play. Ive got some terrific stuff to light.

The Language of Light will be presentede Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m., at the Aspen District Theatre. Tickets are $25, available at and the Wheeler Opera

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