By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

In the time of social distancing, what does "closeness" mean? Inspired by and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the distancing that has characterized much of the past year, Old Dominion University will again bring a worldwide celebration to Hampton Roads with the theme "Proches/Nearness: Physical Distance; Spiritual Closeness" on Jan. 28.

The event is part of the international "The Night of Ideas/La Nuit des Idées 2021," organized by ODU's Department of World Languages and Cultures and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the United States, to bring together artists, musicians, educators, philosophers and many more from across Hampton Roads for a night of performance and programming.

More than 1,000 people attended 2020's all-night event. But as a safety precaution due to COVID-19, this year's event will be hosted virtually on Zoom from 7 to 10 p.m.

Norfolk will be joined by similar events that day in Washington, San Francisco, New York City, Paris, Singapore, Sidney, Madrid, Prague, Amsterdam, Ireland, Canada and many others. The event is free and open to the public. You can RSVP at this link.

"As the world adjusts to an all-encompassing pandemic, the theme of this year's virtual and restrained 'Night of Ideas' probes the question: how can we get closer to one another despite the physical constraints imposed by a brutal and highly contagious virus?" said Peter Schulman, professor of French and coordinator of the event at ODU. "How can the pandemic situation help us in fact appreciate what makes our local treasures so valuable to us as they continue to disappear or face untold hardships; how can theater thrive despite the impossibility of in-person audiences and how can it be used as a healing agent in times of anxiety and trauma? How can looking at the stars and planets help us feel more at home on Earth despite their colossal distance? How can one reach out and exchange with cultures so different and far from our own? How can we connect with faraway lands through poetry as our evening comes to a close and theirs is just beginning? Through six engaging speakers from the hyper local to the extreme distant, this evening will help us highlight our interconnectedness despite seemingly impossible challenges and separations."

The 2021 Night of Ideas at ODU schedule:

  • 7 p.m.: Introduction Schulman. Each session will include a Q-and-A.
  • 7:10-7:40: "Treasuring the Local Before It Disappears," Robin Paez, director of the acclaimed documentary "I Found it at the Video Store," on the now closed Naro Video Store, the plight of small local businesses and the power of community.
  • 7:40-8:10: "Inventive and Healing Theater in the Time of a Pandemic," Marie Ayotte, artistic director of "Le Théâtre Déchainés" in Montreal and author/director of the recent "Planetarium 2.0" and "Tantôt demain peut-être" among many avant-garde and experimental plays.
  • 8:10-8:40: "Looking at the Stars, Looking Within: The Effect of 'Awe' on People's Behaviors and Convictions;" Justin Mason, director of ODU's Pretlow Planetarium.
  • 8:40-9:10: "Overcoming distance in the Nunavik region of Northern Quebec; "Juliana Lévéllé-Trudel, live from Montreal, will discuss her bestselling novel "Nirliit" and her experiences as an educator in a remote Inuit village, the harshness of Innuit life but also the beauty of the land.
  • 9:10-9:25: A poetry reading and discussion from India by award-winning Calcutta poet Somrita Urni Ganguly.
  • 9:25-9:40: Buddhist prayers and a small concert on the sanshin from Japan by Kossan, the head priest of Hōshō-ji Temple in Hachioji, a bit outside of Tokyo.
  • 9:40 to 10: Concluding thoughts by Schulman.

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