Image: Avant Media

It starts slowly. Seven performers walk onto the stage, gazing upon the audience with an unnerving calm. The screen behind them hums blue. Can colors hum? If you saw the show, you’ll agree that yes…yes, they can.

Created by composer Nick Hallett, Rainbow Passage combines music and light to bring a diagnostic text by speech scientist Grant Fairbanks to life. I was skeptical when I first read the show’s description—I now regret my doubt. 

The performance begins with singer Holcombe Waller at the front microphone. He looks out above the fray, or possibly directly into my soul; it’s hard to tell.

“When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act as a prism and form a rainbow,” Waller sings. Reading the words, you might find it hard to imagine them as song. As I type them out, I find it hard to imagine. But doubt be damned, Rainbow Passage turns these words into a mesmerizing and ethereal experience.

The show shifts through several movements, alternating between different lead singers and musicians including the Julians, Matt Carlson, and Jonathan Sielaff. At times, it’s chaos. What do I listen to? Who’s really in charge here? How is it possible for so many noises to sound at once? And then, just as you’re about to decide that maybe this isn’t as harmonic and calculated as you initially thought, the ensemble appears to take a collective breath and stops. Silence. Do you remember how quiet silence is?

Over halfway through the show, the blue backdrop fades into darkness before being consumed by prisms of color and slivers of light created by artist Brock Monroe. The lightshow dances in response to the music, as if one cannot exist without the other.

When the music ends and the lights stop dancing, a moment passes and then another. Is this really the end? A standing ovation solidifies the closure. Hallett rises from behind his keyboard and douses the room in a smile—a temporary replacement for the void that ensues after his art ends.

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