Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Reason for the Season: In Praise of Revelry

There are those of many faiths, who have remembered this time of year from time immemorial, as a sign of “going into that darkest time of the year, and then coming out of it.” This memorial has been made holy by the message of a Savior, a message which the world has forgotten. But not all.

The Revels is the brainchild of John Langstaff (1920-2005), an early music connoisseur, who led the first performance of "The Christmas Revels" in New York City in 1957. A celebration of the winter solstice, both from the pagan tradition, and that which was sanctified by the onset of Christianity, involves both a cast of its locality's most talented performers of all ages, and incorporates the audience as well.

The longest running annual performance dates to 1971 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, near where Revels Incorporated has its base. The event is also held in nine other cities, including Boulder (CO), Hanover (NH), Houston (TX), New York City (NY), Oakland (CA), Portland (OR), Santa Barbara (CA), Tacoma (WA), and Washington (DC). The theme of this year's Washington production took the story to Italy. This writer recalls around the late 1980s when the Washington Revels created a fantasy scene, where a family from the southern mountains of Appalachia magically encountered a counterpart in the Russian frontier. The result was a celebration of dance and song where two disparate traditions came together as one, at a time in history when the world was bearing witness to the same.

The celebrations held by the Revels are not limited to the Yuletide season, but welcome the spring, as well as the onset of the harvest. Their productions have inspired independent endeavors in many other cities as well. Even with the passing of Langstaff in 2005, the seed continues to bear fruit.

We will let the videos tell the story for themselves, and there is also a program book from this year's performance in Cambridge, available for download. There are other ideas for celebrating the season yet to be featured. So, tune in, and stay tuned for more ...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you posted on this! I had never heard of them before until my daughter - just last weekend - performed with the Revels in NYC! It was Irish-themed and a few dancers from her Irish dance school were asked to perform with them and she made the cut. She's 15; it was her "Broadway" debut! A great show, during intermission they taught the audience the three parts to Dona Nobis Pacem and we all sang it together, in harmony. Not something that happens in NYC all that much, heh.

I'll ever forget the look on her face when she came out for her bows and the audience went crazy; they sure do love Irish dancers.

Merry Christmas.