OKC's Paseo Arts District reimagines Magic Lantern Halloween event due to coronavirus pandemic
A version of this story appears in Thursday's Life & Style section of The Oklahoman.
Autumnal glow: Paseo Arts District's Magic Lantern Halloween celebration reimagined amid pandemic
In November, the wide window of Theatre Upon a StarDanceSwan will resemble a toy shop display come to life or an enchanted shadow box featuring costumed dancers, paper puppets and otherworldly original music.
"For this First Friday ... it looks kind of very empty and ready for a new story," said Lorrie Keller, founder and creative director of Theatre Upon a StarDanceSwan.
"This is a brand-new adventure for us. ... It's a brand-new chapter in the StarDanceSwan story to offer to the community. There are mysteries in it for us as well. I'm kind of wondering, too ... how it will work out because we're all in it together. We're all creating this together."
The nonprofit dance company in the Paseo Arts District is keeping the light of imaginative play shining despite the coronavirus pandemic. Keller and her band of creatives are reinventing StarDanceSwan's yearly Magic Lantern Celebration for the Magic Lantern Fairy “Gazement," a two-month series of hands-on activities that begins this weekend.
"We're trying to work around and keep the creativity going without being really close together," Keller said. "We're creating a safe space and a safe place for dance and art and imagination to continue."
On Monday evening, Keller gathered some of her StarDanceSwan students into the company's studios, 3020 Paseo, for a first Magic Lantern Fairy "Gazement" costume fitting.
"It was wonderful to see them all. ... They've got several months growth on them," she said. "They were just overjoyed because they haven't been in the studio since the end of March. We've been Zooming classes, and in the classes they've been doing costuming and makeup and writing stories and shadow puppets. Not really been able to dance, though, in the spaces they have at home. They're saying, 'I just want us to come back and be able to dance.'"
The reconfigured Magic Lantern will culminated in a long-awaited dance performance called the "Gazement Ball. Due to the pandemic, StarDanceSwan was forced to cancel its annual summer Fairy Ball, and the Paseo Arts District scrapped the this year's Paseo Arts Festival, where the company sets up its annual interactive family activity Paper Play Theatre.
"It's a continuation of those events in the whimsical fashion that we offer the kids," Keller said. "When children come to a StarDanceSwan event, it's a hands-on, toes-on, minds-on, creativity-on event. They know they're going to step into a world of wonder, so this is right there in the same story. 'Gazement' is another chapter in the story."
The Magic Lantern Celebration typically brings children to the Paseo to build paper costumes, take part in a Pumpkin Costume Parade in a Jack ’O Lantern Labyrinth and dance the autumn evening away to the original tunes of Steve McLinn of Ojas Music. It is a one-day family festival billed as "a night of light instead of fright."
"This is a really creative time of year. There's a change in the season. It hearkens back to the stories that were told to children by their grandmothers around the hearth. A change awakens ethereal feelings inside of us, and we don't need to express them in horror. We can express them in wonder ... and I love to go into the mystery," Keller said.
"All these years I've been rethinking 'what is creative expression and how is it that you lead children into their own creativity?' ... and that's what we're doing with 'Gazement.'"
The new project will launch from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday during the Paseo First Friday Gallery Walk as well as from noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at StarDanceSwan, where children can pick up a "curious bag" full of contents to create a paper puppet.
"Inside the bag will be instructions and there will be hands, arms, legs, pumpkin seeds," Keller said. "They'll be able to create a fanciful enchanting character to come to this ball."
Children can bring back and drop off their finished puppets at StarDanceSwan from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 16-17, and the Keller and her team of artists will use the paper creations to decorate the studio's window.
At twilight on Oct. 31, the Magic Lantern Fairy "Gazement" will premiere when the studio's window lights go up and reveal the assembled paper puppets. The beguiling display will be illuminated at twilight through Nov. 30 so people can view it.
The return of the First Friday Gallery Walk from 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 6 will bring the "Gazement Ball," when the children and adult dancers of StarDanceSwan will perform in the window to a recording to McLinn's unearthly original music.
“We are thrilled that Lorrie Keller and her team at StarDanceSwan were able to reimagine this long-time annual event into a window theater performance for all to enjoy," said Amanda Bleakley, executive director of the Paseo Arts Association, in an email.
Since StarDanceSwan's multigenerational company includes some family groups, dancers will perform as a trio, a duet and two solos during the "Gazement Ball."
"We've organized it so they won't be all dancing together but come in and dance one after another to help keep social distancing intact," Keller said.
She said she hopes that the Magic Lantern Fairy "Gazement" can provide children with an outlet for creative expression during a tumultuous time when so many events, classes and activities for youngsters have been canceled.
After all, Keller added, we could all use a little magic right now.
"This certainly got me off the couch," she said with a laugh. "At any time our imaginations can create all kinds of possibilities, and within those possibilities, we have opportunity to grow and develop and know more about ourselves and express ourselves."
Magic Lantern Fairy "Gazement"
When: Friday-Nov. 30.
Where: Theatre Upon a StarDanceSwan, 3020 Paseo.
"Curious bag" pickup: 6 to 9 p.m. Friday during the Paseo First Friday Gallery Walk and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday.
Paper puppet drop-off: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 16-17.
Magic Lantern Fairy "Gazement" window display: Illuminated at twilight Oct. 31-Nov. 30.
"Gazement Ball": 6 to 9 p.m. Nov. 6 during the Paseo First Friday Gallery Walk.
Cost: Free but donations are accepted to help cover costs.