Editors' pick

Illuminate: A Martial Arts Experience

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Editorial Review

Capital Fringe Festival: ‘Illuminate: A Martial Arts Experience’

By Celia Wren
Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Let there be light — and flying snap kicks. That might be the motto of “Illuminate: A Martial Arts Experience,” an entertaining showcase of Eastern fighting techniques, executed in the dark by black belts wearing LED lights on their hands and feet. Souped up with glowing weaponry, the ghost of a “Karate Kid”-type story line and gnomic voice-overs (“Your hand should not fear the brick; the brick should fear your hand”), this unusual Fringe selection offers an opportunity to see a whirling nunchaku that’s as eerily luminous as Luke Skywalker’s light saber.

“These feats are not to be tried at home,” a voice intones at the start of “Illuminate,” devised and performed by seven local martial artists trained in tang soo do, jujitsu and other disciplines. The prudent disclaimer ushers in a perfunctory skit about a 98-pound weakling who gets beat up by bullies and then, presumably — narrative clarity is not “Illuminate’s” strong suit — goes on to study under a martial-arts master.

But who cares about the story? The stage lights have dimmed, and the Warehouse Theater is awash in blue, green and purple neon swirls, as kicks and punches rocket in all directions to a soundtrack of live drumming and recorded percussive, Eastern-flavored music. (Director and producer Johnny Shryock is composer and sound designer.) The cast spars, performs kata (choreographed routines in which martial artists battle invisible opponents) and demonstrates a range of combative practices, including Philippine stick fighting and choking attackers with an ordinary belt. A glowing rope dart (a kung-fu-style weapon) looks stunning as it moves like a pyrotechnic pinwheel.

Serious martial-arts enthusiasts might find that the dim lighting makes it impossible to appreciate the nuances of the performers’ techniques. But as a sensory-rich production for general audiences, this hour-long show packs a punch.