While trying to explain part of the magic of what he does, Ian Carney — a classically trained dancer by trade — loves to invoke a classic line from the arts: “If the emotion is too big to speak, you sing. And if the emotion is too big to sing, you dance.”
Then what? Well, for Carney and his wife, fellow New Orleanian and dancer Eleanor Carney, when the emotion’s even bigger than that, you dance in the dark while lit up like a Christmas tree.
That’s one way to describe the sometimes difficult-to-explain Lightwire Theater, the New Orleans-based dance troupe that caught the imagination of American TV audiences more than two years ago and now, once again, is ready to return from its touring for a holiday performance for hometown fans.
Their dancing figures are cast in the pitch-perfect framework that has become their holiday show, “A Very Electric Christmas,” which returns to New Orleans for the third consecutive year. This time the show, which hits Saturday (Dec. 26), moves to the recently renovated and reopened Orpheum Theater — another example of how the troupe loves to up the stakes each year.
In 2013, Lightwire Theater lit up NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” with a head-turning performance that landed them in the semifinals. In 2014, the troupe led by Ian and Eleanor Carney won truTV’s debut season of “Fake Off,” a reality competition, winning a $100,000 prize.
Now they tour the country with as many as five different shows, including “A Very Electric Christmas.”
The show features a mash-up of pop-culture references, including, naturally, “The Nutcracker,” complete with its own lit-up Rat King.
Dancers perform in the dark, in outfits laced with “EL wire,” a phosphorous-based electroluminescent wire.
But for Carney, who made his mark on Broadway years ago in the Billy Joel musical “Movin’ Out,” the story has to be as universal as the lights are dazzling.
“I want to make theater that is like (the Disney animated movie) ‘Aladdin,’ ” said Carney, who danced with Ballet Hysell and whose mother, Diane, is artistic director. “That’s where you’re sitting there, laughing hysterically at Robin Williams, and your 5-year-old is laughing, and you’re both laughing on two totally different levels.”
The plot is simple: It’s Christmastime, and, as Santa’s elf assembly line is completing its work producing children’s toys, Max, a young bird, is heading south (to New Orleans) with his family for the winter.
But when their course is turned upside down by a snowstorm, he winds up at the North Pole, beginning an odyssey that includes Nutcracker soldiers, dancing poinsettias, caroling worms and of course the devilish Rat King.
It’s all set to a musical soundtrack that references everything from “Home Alone” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and, wait for it, “The Godfather.”
“We’ll put musical choices that are for everyone,” Carney said. “When our Rat King sits in his chair, you hear that theme, and his chair comes on, and all the parents know what’s going on. The narrative has to exist on their level, too.”