Tonight will be the longest night of the year: 15 hours and 36 minutes. It also will be the longest night for thousands of years to come. Each year, the Earth tilts a bit less...

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Tonight will be the longest night of the year: 15 hours and 36 minutes.

It also will be the longest night for thousands of years to come.

Each year, the Earth tilts a bit less on its axis relative to the sun, gradually shortening both winter’s longest night and summer’s longest day.

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We’re now at about 23.5 degrees away from perpendicular. Ten thousand years from now, the Earth’s tilt will be about 22 degrees. Then the angle will start to grow again.

But for now the days can seem awfully short and gray.

So yesterday’s fiery nightfall celebration of the solstice, “Turning Point,” around and in Seattle Center’s International Fountain, was a welcome burst of optimism.

“The lives we lead and the paths we take are mirrored in nature: The solstice is about reaching the darkest point and turning a corner,” said Manuel Cawaling, the Seattle artist who directed the 44-performer show.

Cawaling likes to create spectacles in public spaces that people can just stumble upon.

Yesterday, the performers appeared inside Center House as local storytellers Negesti Abebech, Mimi Katano and Philip Smith finished their show.

The drums kicked in, and two “comets,” in orange tights and gold-tasseled headgear, beckoned the audience into the chilly dusk, led by a white-faced Goddess of Winter.

There, the planets were in disarray.

Isiah Anderson Jr., who is very tall, strutted around in a purple sequined suit as Jupiter.

Freya Wormus, quite pregnant, spun around the lawn as Earth.

Susie Kozawa played Uranus in a white-feathered helmet, slicing the air with “hum-bows” that sounded like light-sabers.

A break dancer in shiny blue pants boogalooed on the grass, and opera singers, in full song, milled through the crowd.

Even Cawaling had a hard time saying exactly what was going on.

“I’m used to working with a script. But this is more about images and symbols — kind of like a dream.”

Slowly, the performers gravitated to the International Fountain. Torches lit up, swinging in rhythm with the drums.

“Are firemen gonna come?” Brett Burgess, sitting on his father’s shoulders, asked hopefully. They didn’t.

Cawaling has directed an outdoor performance at Seattle Center for the last three solstices.

Each year it gets more elaborate, he says. This year he added fire and classical singers.

“It’s pretty wacky,” said Mark Johnson of Seattle. “This is why we live in America, I guess.”

Jim Downing: 206-515-5627 or jdowning@seattletimes.com