From dancing to dinosaurs, new world technology to old style storytelling, New Orleans-born ballet and Broadway stars Ian and Eleanor Carney, along with their now Dallas-based choreography colleague, Corbin Popp, have moved from their traditional ballet world into a very different one. Combining their mutual love of visual art, theater and technology, Carney and Popp are the creators of a unique magical experience for all who are young at heart.
Darwin the Dinosaur opens Friday, August 12, at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC) and plays for the next two weekends only. Featuring their original electronically-lit creations, in essence hi-tech “costumes” covering dancers completely encased in black, their uniquely-created brightly colored crayon-like characters move across the stage telling a wordless story. Their movements are backed by a sound track ranging from traditional ballet scores to works by Henry Mancini to the sounds of Matrix.
From rave review performances across Europe and Asia, from Bogota,Columbia to Munich,Germany and, in October, to upcoming presentations in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, Corbian, as their company is known, is bringing the story of the true meaning of love to the New Orleans stage. What sets their production apart is their use of a product known as EL (electroluminescent) wire. Powered completely by batteries and requiring no other source of power, the wire creates a glow from within the characters, which light up the stage with every movement.
While originally conceived as a performance for adult audiences, the Corbian dancers soon realized the essence of their story would be appealing for children as well. It’s a tale that begins with Professor Henslow, a famous scientist with magic powers, putting together a dinosaur creation and bringing it to life. But as Darwin the Dinosaur, initially the professor’s pet, learns to take his first steps, his animal instincts soon take over. Realizing he could be in danger from his very own creation, Professor Henslow responds by giving Darwin a heart, creating in him compassion for other beings.
What follows is a visually dazzling, virtuosic performance that shows all in the audience how something new can be learned from even adverse experiences. In true storybook form, it concludes, of course, with a happy ending.
All in all there are 40 characters performed by five actor/dancers in a story that tells of Darwin’s life beyond his workshop beginnings; his encounters with many other extraordinary crayon-colored creatures; an epic battle with a red T-Rex complete with Star Wars-type light sticks; and a final demonstration of an act of true love.
At 42 years of age, both Ian Carney and his wife, Eleanor, although still dancing, realized that their successful careers would inevitably slow down as years went by. Both New Orleanians — “I’m a Country Day boy, and she’s a McGehee girl,” Ian explains – they grew up in artistic families. Ian’s father, the great painter Hal Carney, was on the Tulane art faculty for years; his mother is still involved in teaching at Ballet Hysell. Eleanor’s mother was a longtime editor and writer, working with the old Dixie Roto magazine in The Times-Picayune.
After several years living in New York and traveling across the country appearing as guest artists with numerous ballet companies and, now, the creators of a new take on wordless storytelling, the Carneys decided to return to New Orleans and make it base camp once more. Their beautiful historic Camp Street home, filled with wonderful family antiques, now shares space with creature parts for The Ugly Duckling, the next EL production they are working on.
“It’s great to have one foot in dancing and one foot in choreography,” Eleanor says. And while their jobs have taken them all over the world, Ian sums it up for both of them when he says, “It’s just so nice to be home in New Orleans.”
Darwin the Dinosaur roars into the CAC theater Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from August 12th to 21st. Tickets are $10 for children 10 and under, $15 for CAC members and students and $18 for general admission. For more information, click here.