Festival shines light on solstice

December 17, 2007
BRISTOL — Last Thursday’s performance of “Night Fires” drew an enthusiastic crowd to Holley Hall in Bristol for two hours of music, dance and evocative costumes, but it may be the beginning of the end for the annual winter solstice celebration. After 26 years of organizing the festivity, founder and director Marianne Lust plans to step down.
“I’m 60 years old, and it seems time to think about what I should do next,” said Lust, a Lincoln resident.
“Night Fires” is a mix of carnival and opera that recalls centuries of festivities around the shortest day of the year — the winter solstice, which is Dec. 22 this year — and the climb back up to light. It features songs, dances and costumes inspired by cultures around the world in a passionate performance.
Each year the production tells a different story. Previous years have focused on St. Francis of Assisi, a Dutch Jew who died in Auschwitz and the diaries of a young girl whose family settled in Oregon in the late 19th century, among other themes.
“It’s a really unique production,” said Solveig Overby, publicity director for the Night Fires Theater Group Ltd.
Whatever the storyline, every production shares the common theme of a journey, sometimes a struggle, from darkness into light.
“The winter solstice is about going from the darkness into the light, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Lust said. This year’s “Night Fires” is focused on the walls around the world — from Berlin to Israel to the Texas-Mexican border — that separate people from each other and from the natural world, the harm those walls do, and how to break them down.
The songs and costumes include elements and themes from a wide variety of traditions, according to Lust, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, paganism, and also non-religious songs, like folk songs and contemporary songs with a seasonal touch.
Dozens of people have worked on the show over the years, some for decades. “It’s a lot of work for everybody, but it’s an amazing show,” Overby said.
The production is a community theatrical event, but for Lust it has personal significance as well after spending so much of her life working on it. “There’s definitely not a religious component, but there’s a spiritual component,” she said. “I’m going to miss it terribly.”
However, Lust is holding out hopes that “Night Fires” will continue after this year’s pageant. She said that some time around December 2008 she plans to get together a number of people who have been involved in the production in the past, in hopes of passing the torch to them.
If so, the new management might mean a different style of production in some ways, with many different voices having an equal say in the events. “If it continues, it’s going to have to have a broader base of people supporting it,” Lust said.
Last Thursday’s show was the opening of an eight-performance run. There were shows in Burlington over the weekend and shows at City Hall Auditorium in Montpelier scheduled for this Tuesday and Wednesday. Night Fires returns to Holley Hall for shows on Friday, Dec. 21, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 22, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 23, at 5 p.m. For details, see www.nightfires.org or call (802) 863-1024.

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