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Solstice to Equinox

MARQUETTE – Ornate costumes and the sound of various percussion instruments were part of an unusual wintry scene that filled part of the Northern Michigan University campus last Monday night.

Marquette percussionist Carrie Biolo and NMU dance instructor Maria Formolo – with Formolo’s improvisation students – took a trip outside the Physical Education Instruction Facility for the two’s project, “Running Towards the Light,” a “performance collaboration” inspired by “Solstice to Equinox: Out of the Darkness into the Light.”

The Solstice community arts project officially started on the winter solstice – Dec. 22, 2015 – and will end on the spring equinox, which is March 20.

The project invites participants to practice something creative and hands-on every week, be it a visual, audio or written interpretation of whatever interests them during the 13 weeks between the solstice and the equinox.

Formolo said she and Biolo have been taking part in the decorative – and snowy – project that honors themselves as well as nature, the “beautiful” snow and the moon.

“I think it’s been interesting for both Carrie and I just to be there in the weather,” Formolo said.

Performing outdoors this time of year in the Upper Peninsula has its challenges.

For instance, Biolo sets up her gongs and instruments to work in all types of weather.

“We did it in a blizzard once, cold, kind of warm rain,” Formolo said, “and then following the moon and becoming aware of how the planet is turning so fast, that we don’t notice when we’re inside and busy and on a time clock.”

The pair started at 5:05 p.m. for their first sunset on Dec. 21, and sunsets been getting later and later since, she said.

One time they watched the sun go down behind the Lake Superior & Ishpeming ore dock, a different spot from their usual performance site on Presque Isle.

“It’s just so phenomenal when you watch how fast it moves,” Formolo said.

She teaches dance, yoga and tai chi at NMU, but on Monday her improvisation students dressed in hats and snow pants instead of leotards and dancing shoes.

Outside they performed dance moves – improvised, of course – to the sounds of Biolo’s various percussion sounds. However, Formolo had a few words of advice before they took part, such as not being afraid to be a maverick and staying active in the snow, even if it meant rolling on a hill.

Chase Missel, an NMU sophomore in the improv class, said before she went outside: “I’m super excited. I hope I stay warm. It’s pretty windy, but it’ll be nice. It’ll be a good way to welcome the new year.”

Both Formolo and Biolo, an accomplished percussionist, were dressed colorfully and decoratively, which added to the almost surreal surroundings of the nighttime event.

Biolo is pleased with the way the ongoing Solstice project is going.

“Oh, it’s been awesome,” Biolo said. “The Solstice project has been a great catalyst for this artistic endeavor.”

The main thrust of the Solstice project, she noted, involves the two performing weekly, but they’re also working on other ideas for other days of the week.

Biolo’s performance outfit was particularly unique as it included cowbells around her waist and metal caps on her tall hat. Part of her garb, she said, was inspired by one of their performances in which she really wanted to play something and wear it.

“And cowbell in the winter seemed just, like, made for it,” Biolo said.

Other Solstice performance dates are scheduled for Presque Isle at 5 p.m. Thursday and Feb. 25 as well as March 3, 10 and 17. An equinox celebration is set for 5 p.m. March 20 at Presque while a prenumbral eclipse celebration is set for 7:30 a.m. March 23 at Harlow Park on Washington Street in Marquette.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.