Almost everyone dreams of magic at some point — and enchanted forests can be among the most fantastical imaginings, often inspired by movies, games, books or performances.
Whistler, a jewel in the well-laden crown of B.C.’s renowned tourist destinations, has captured the spirit of magical dreams with its newest nature-adventure excursion.
Vallea Lumina, unveiled last summer, is the product of a visionary collaboration between popular Whistler tour operator The Adventure Group (TAG) and the Moment Factory, a multimedia studio specializing in the conception and production of sensory-immersive environments.
Moment Factory’s founders were the original executives of Cirque de Soleil, and their internationally themed entertainment installations include Aura at the famed Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, Foresta Lumina, also in Quebec, Rainforest Lumina in Singapore and Island Lumina in Japan. Every Lumina night walk has a completely original theme, and each story tells the history of the land.
The Whistler night walk’s story starts at the edge of the mountains where legends say there is a hidden valley where stardust falls from the sky, filling the air with light.
Imagine a child, stepping into an enchanted forest, filled with wonder.
TAG founder Joey Houssian did, and teamed with Moment Factory to bring the fantasy to fruition.
“The blueprint for Vallea Lumina is the idea that there is magic in the forest, [and that] a child realizes there is spirituality in nature,” said Houssian.
Houssian grew up discovering the wildness that surrounds Vancouver and Whistler, and connecting with nature was his inspiration for the project, which came together serendipitously on a tight production cycle.
The result is a full sensory performance played out in two acts: Act One has a ranger in the forest looking for two lost hikers – a grandfather and granddaughter, “Leonard and Gloria.”
“In the first act, the world is still very relatable and still very human, and you make your way into the hidden valley, which is Vallea Lumina, and in that valley is where the whole colour temperature of the show changes, and things become magic,” Houssian said.
Paramount to the multimedia narrative is the importance of salmon to the forest ecosystem, the Great Bear rainforest in particular.
The transition from Act One to Act Two has visitors crossing a bridge showered with a laser optic that has to be experienced to be understood, with talking trees (a light installation worthy of a Hollywood nod) that would leave any child overwhelmed with wonder and magic, brought to life with technology.
“There's a cool relationship between people having a completely natural, non-mechanized walk through the forest, and all this technology – the magic is we tried to not show it,” Houssian said.
The climax is the projection of the famed Golden Spruce tree, which pays homage to a legend from the Haida Gwaii, and where Leonard and Gloria are found, dancing.
The Vallea Lumina experience is not to be underestimated when it comes to invoking an emotional reaction.
With the summer 2018 breakout season a success, the 2019 season is focused on enhancing the visual and audio elements of the show and modifying and upgrading the walking trail to make way for greater foot traffic.
“We’re testing effects, it's the same show, but enhanced, both from an infrastructure and a creative perspective,” Houssian said. “We'll keep the theme of the magical valley, but change the story.”
The Vallea Lumina winter walk is now open daily at sundown, running until April 2020.