Tucked into a small cavity of the Power Center’s Rehearsal Room sit a few colored spotlights and a plastic mat. For five days only, this touch-sensitive magic carpet will morph into a stunning digital garden where children can compose symphonies with their fingers, paint portraits with their knees and play hide-and-seek with glowing caterpillars in the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Mainstage attraction “The Butterfly Garden.”

“The Butterfly Garden”

Wednesday through Sunday, times vary
Rehearsal Room at the Power Center
$18 ($12 children)

Hailing from Prato, Italy, Company T.P.O. (Teatro di Piazza o d’Occasione) has distinguished itself as an international children’s theater company, combining the best of new-age multimedia, contemporary dance forms and traditional theater into a stunningly rendered tale of organic rebirth.

“The (show) takes audiences on a magnificent journey through a literal and symbolic story of a butterfly’s life cycle,” said Robb Woulfe, the executive director of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. “It’s told by two dancers moving inside a virtual landscape and at times, the spectator is invited to take part and be enfolded by images which react to their gestures and movements.”

The small audience is seated directly under the shadow of the winglike stage, giving a kind of laser light show experience popularized in the 1970s. After each 50-minute performance, children in the audience are invited to take off their shoes and come up to the stage to try out the multimedia for themselves.

“Because each show only seats 100 people, audience members truly feel a part of the production,” Woulfe said. “Each show becomes its own unique experience for that particular audience. I love that aspect – the audience themselves as artists.”

Although “The Butterfly Garden” caters primarily to children, the strikingly intimate experience should attract all kinds of people, young or old.

“I thought this would be a good fit for our festival, given that family-friendly shows are always a very popular attraction with our audiences,” he said. “Given the unique interactive nature of this production, I knew both the young and young at heart would really love the whole concept.”

The Ann Arbor Public Library is also hosting free open play sessions for half-hour increments at the Power Center, so that children can have the opportunity to experience the magic carpet for themselves.

“With the open play session, we are inviting the public to come experience in-depth the technology used by (the company),” Woulfe said. “In these sessions, children and adults can explore the performance space looking for images, sounds and surprises within the digital gardens.”

Although this is the Italian company’s first trip to Ann Arbor, they have toured America a few times in the past, traveling to audiences in Hanover, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Nashville and New York.

“Company T.P.O. has been on my radar for a few years, as I knew they had been playing a number of high-profile international festivals over the past several years,” Woulfe said. “This, coupled with the fact that the company has started to steadily appear at a number of great U.S. venues – including everything from contemporary art museums to Broadway – convinced me to bring the production to Ann Arbor.”

“In this very digital age, I think this company has been extremely successful at integrating technology into the timeless art of storytelling – in this case, the evolutionary tale of a caterpillar to a butterfly,” he said. “T.P.O. is clearly finding new ways to mix theater, dance, music and technology into a new performance genre.”

Woulfe believes that “The Butterfly Garden” incorporates very well into the central theme of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.

“It doesn’t get more summer than a show about butterflies and gardens,” he said.

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