“To me, the lights were artwork of themselves. There were the dancers dancing under art, with art on their bodies, so it just brought the whole picture together,” said Danielle Sampson, a dance teacher at Grand Center Arts Academy.
I attend Grand Center Arts Academy, a school for the fine arts that goes from 6th-12th grade. Our dance department was recruited by The Pulitzer, a modern art gallery in St. Louis, to dance around a new art installation, Lots. Lots is a big metal cage-like structure with white sheets that flowed in the wind. Previously, I had made an Arduino-controlled light-up skirt that the Manager of Programs from the Pulitzer had seen. She really loved it, so they asked me to design costumes and accessories for the dance performance. I was excited to do this and made light-up bracelets, anklets, and headbands for the dancers to wear. I went to see the final performance and it was fantastic. The dancers had such great energy, and emotion. I could feel the music by the way the dancers moved. The dance was about ten minutes, and I wished it was longer. It felt incredible to see all of the work I had done, payoff to help create something so many people were going to see. To see the designs that I had made, be incorporated with two other art forms that involved so many more people was amazing. The lights really topped the performance off and made the difference from great, to incredible.
“I think the dance was made for the lights, because if you were watching it without the lights then it looks kind of boring, but the lights totally made it a cool hypnotic effect,” says Brianna Ford, a tenth grader who was in the dance.
To start with, I had a meeting with the dance teachers who choreographed the dance to the song I Remember, by deadmau5. By this time I had made a prototype, a wristband made out of paper and packing tape with a LED and coin battery, and got feedback from them. I then ordered my supplies, which thankfully The Pulitzer had funded, and got working as soon as they came. To make the cuffs I used sweatbands, both head and wrist, coin batteries, and LEDs. At first, my idea was to sew little pockets on the cuffs for the batteries to go in, but when I put the batteries in, they would just slide right out and the pockets would unravel. I then realized that I could cut into the cuff and make a pocket inside that would be more sturdy and a lot quicker to produce. It was still a challenge to make 14 anklets with 3 LEDs, 26 bracelets with 4 LEDs, and 14 headbands with 4 LEDs, but I had some help from my friends. I felt very proud when I had finished and got to see my small pieces be a part of something bigger. Something that grew away from just me, away from just my school, into the real world.
After the Pulitzer performance, the group performed two more times. On the second performance, a week since I had turned the lights on, some of the lights needed to be changed out. It was challenging to teach the dancers to change the lights backstage, last minute. There were only a couple of hours before the performance was going to start so everyone felt stressed and was trying to rush. They had no idea at first, but as I showed them and they tried themselves, they started to get it.
“It was nerve-wracking because we need[ed] to get ready [for the dance], but we also need[ed] to do the lights. But, I guess it was fun after you get what you need to do down,” said Brianna Ford, one of the 10th grade dancers who helped me fix the lights backstage.
“I think it taught professionalism, how the show must go on even if [the lights] are malfunctioning,” said Joel Breeden, 10th grade, another of the dancers helping me.
We only had three of the dancers working, but it moved fairly quickly. They were very excited when they finished and they felt like they accomplished something. The dance then went very well and looked great in the pitch black of our newly renovated Sun Theatre.
I really liked seeing my school, Grand Center Arts Academy, be a part of the art society in St. Louis. GCAA is only four years old and we have already advanced so much. It is a big step forward to be taken seriously by the established art institutions around us and to participate in events held by them.
“I think this was an amazing experience, I have never been asked to present a project that was funded by such a prestigious foundation here in [St. Louis]. I was just really fortunate to be part of this program and to help broaden my horizons in not just dance, but not we’re getting into performance art,” said Chivas Merchant-Buckman, a co-choreographer of the dance.
Photo Credit: Juju & Erich Vieth