Looking back at eight years of the Light in Winter festival in Ithaca, the one concept that stood put was that magicians make everything more fun. Light in Winter is an elegant collision of science and imaginative thought.
For one weekend every January, it's where wine tasting meets The Matrix. Light in Winter may mark the only occasion where magician Jeff McBride and California physicist Robert J. Lang were ever on the same bill.
This year's festival has even more surprises in store, so the Ithaca Times sat down with LiW's founder and Artistic Director, Barbara Mink, and LiW Executive Director Marie Sirakos for some details.
Ithaca Times: Did planning this year's festival yield any specific themes?
Barbara Mink: I don't program to a specific idea, but inevitably some themes emerge. This is our eighth year, and exploration runs through everything: Exploring the world, exploring the cosmos and exploring the senses.
IT: You have a live "Star Trek" show at the State Theatre and a lecture on "Trek" physics (see separate article). Certainly, "Star Trek" is a brand that says "Science is fun." Are you now or have you ever been a Trekkie?
BM: I loved the original television show, watched it when it first ran, in reruns and then again when my daughter was young.
Marie Sirakos: I'm not really a "Star Trek" fan. I appreciate it, and I really like the pop culture look of "Star Trek", but I'm really not a Trekkie at all.
BM: I had read Lawrence Krauss's "The Physics of Star Trek," which explained how the physics of time travel, beaming up and down, and other things worked, before we started the festival. I always wanted to have him as part of Light in Winter. When I saw that the interactive stage show was available, we managed to lure Dr. Krauss as well, so that we have an adult and a younger point of entry to the wonders of Star Trek.
IT: Can you tell us about the kick-off, as it were?
BM: Starting on Thursday is new for us. We'll be at the Museum of the Earth.
MS: To keep with our new tradition of celebrating local food, we are offering a local wine and cheese pairing, featuring Treleaven Wines and various cheeses from the Cayuga Lakes Cheese Trail. To cover the science of tasting, Chris Gerling, an enologist from Cornell Cooperative Extension, will be strolling around and offering fun facts and interesting conversation about the neuroscience of tasting while participants enjoy. Where else are you going to get a strolling enologist at a tasting? Should be totally fun. Tickets are $20 and include tasting, of course. And then we are bringing in Tim Lee, a Hollywood stand-up comedian who used to be a biologist. His various YouTube videos have gotten over three million views, which is what inspired him to start touring. He's going to riff on PowerPoint and scientific phenomena. This is our first stand-up comedian, so we are really excited. Tickets are $15 with limited seating. And we will have a cash bar provided by Joe's Restaurant. All around, I think this will be a really enjoyable festival evening.
IT: Let's talk about Irene's workshop at Autumn Leaves on Friday.
BM: Irene Zahava is a much-beloved writing teacher and coach, and a dear friend. She has been part of LiW for years, holding workshops for people who want to explore self-expression through prose or who are experienced writers. Each year she tailors the workshop to some of the program themes that emerge; this year examining the senses is a big one.
MS: Irene is just one of those Ithaca staples who never cease to bring wonderful workshops. Her writing workshops have always been a big hit with our audiences. This year, her workshop will focus on putting together word collages celebrating sensory awareness. It's free, and takes place on Friday at 3:30 p.m. at the Owl Caf of Autumn Leaves Bookstore.
BM: We have some wonderful music this year. Friday the 16-member Cayuga Vocal Ensemble will partner with poet, essayist and naturalist Diane Ackerman to explore the joys of winter in words and song.
IT: I love that title, "A Midwinter Barbaric." Tell us more about that.
MS: "A Midwinter Barbaric" comes from the poetry of Diane Ackerman. This unique combined performance will focus on the beauty of winter, a one-time performance. Both performers are local treasures, so it should be an outstanding combination.
BM: Saturday, we have two performances by the Alloy Orchestra.
IT: I remember seeing you at Cornell Cinema when the Alloy Orchestra played live with Fritz Lang's "Metropolis." It's great that you've been able to bring them back.
BM: I've been a fan of the Alloy Orchestra for years. Their original scores for silent movies really change the way you view them. When I saw what films were in their repertoire, two fit perfectly. One was "The Lost World," a silent film based on a book by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which dinosaurs were found roaming in a jungle. I love thinking about how we imagine the past, and Warren Allmon of the Museum of the Earth is a recognized expert on how we've imagined prehistoric life. So he'll be introducing that film and performance. The other is "South," the story of Ernest Shackleton's trip to the South Pole. That seemed a great complement to exploring the cosmos with some of our other programs. Joyce Jesionowski from Binghamton, who is a film expert, will introduce it based on its groundbreaking place in early film.
IT: Bach fans will be keen for details on the Variations being offered for free at Barnes Hall. Tell us more about the musicians.
MS: The pieces were chosen by our performer Syau-Cheng Lai who is a local visual artist, performer, and Cornell PhD in Biopsychology. The histories of why these two pieces were composed are quite interesting, and I think that may be why she chose them. So the legend is that Bach composed his Variations to be performed during Count Kaiserling's insomniac nights. And Rzewski wrote The People United Wall Never Be Defeated! as a tribute to the struggle against Chilean Gen. Pinochet's regime. This concert will also be free.
BM: Saturday night, author Dava Sobel narrates the story of coinciding revolutions in science and music in the 17th century, in a multimedia production with Galileo's Daughters. Sunday will be a pretty fabulous day: a workshop with the New York Public Library's first-ever artist in residence Flash Rosenberg, an interactive experience with sculptures that are meant to be touched, an hour with Nick Sagan on the influence his father's television show "Cosmos" has had on science and on him as a writer; and a fascinating lecture by Peter Galison from Harvard on how computers are changing the way we think. And of course there is the Hall of Wonders, our free family-friendly room of science-based activities.
IT: What are the local galleries offering in conjunction with LIW?
MS: First, we have the artist's reception for Susan Larkin's exhibit A Closer Look at Mann Library on Cornell's campus. This is on Friday at 3:30 p.m. Then, we have the Ithaca Downtown Galleries LIW Shows starting at 5pm on Friday. Participating galleries include the Tompkins Public Library who will be presenting "Carl Sagan's Cosmos 30 Years On," which includes photo images from the Mars Rover Group, a collection of art curated by Cosmos devotee Patrick Fish, and works by LIW Artistic Director Barbara Mink. The Kitchen Theatre lobby gallery will also be showing Barbara's work, the State of the Art Gallery will be presenting their New Member Show, and CSMA will be presenting their Annual Open Show, which will also feature the CCO's Painted Violins as a raffle fundraiser for the orchestra. All of the LiW gallery events are free.
IT: What's your most unusual program this year?
BM: I'd have to say our last program, Dark Dining (which was sold out just before press time), led by Dana Salisbury, who conducts this project in various high-end restaurants in New York City and around the world. This is a four-course feast prepared by Chef Thomas Gisler at Taverna Banfi, where participants will don blindfolds and dine in velvety darkness. In between courses, a solo musician will help "get people out of language and the visual." It's the kind of experience you're unlikely to ever have again; and seating is limited, so I hope everyone who wants to try this can get in.
For more information about the Light in Winter festival, including a complete schedule, visit its Web site at www.lightinwinter.com.
Tickets to Light in Winter are on sale at Ticket Center Ithaca, 171 The Commons -- Next to 15 Steps. It is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call (607) 273-4497 for more information, or visit the Ticket Center Web site at ithacaevents.com.