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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
Michele Hunter
Mark Share
Matt Share
Josh Herz

By M.R. Hunter
12/19/2012 10:37:14 AM


Whether you see it live on Christmas Eve at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion or watch it at home on KCET, this three-hour, Emmy-nominated holiday show is a marvel in the sheer number of 23 performing groups totaling to 500 performers in its grand scale and efficient rehearsal schedule.

We got a sneak peek in the rehearsal halls at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Saturday, Dec 1 and to our amazement, this is the only time for groups to come in for a quick run through. Having seen the televised performance, one has the impression of a well-oiled machine that requires weeks of dedicated polishing and careful coordination. What we discovered was almost more amazing than the actual extravaganza itself …all of this must come together in a single day. That’s one rehearsal in two rooms, 500 performers and a team of producers behind a long table armed with stopwatches, a video camera and a lot of patient enthusiasm.

As someone who’s worked in the theater, rehearsal is an absolute essential part of the creative and technical process. It’s the necessary time to learn blocking (movement on stage), memorize lines, finesse performances and work collaboratively towards a common goal. In what is usually a four-week schedule, problems can ensue, technical issues erupt but the basic tenet in show business is that it must go on and usually, even at the 11th hour, it does, indeed, fall into place. It boggles one’s mind then to observe the strictly followed schedule of 23 groups arriving from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, some in full dress, ushered down a narrow hallway into one of the rooms only to quickly mark or beat out their particular act, be it a choir, a dance troupe or a jazz band. That’s it. Each individual group is left to rehearse their particular performance on their own time, but as a complete production, it is a one shot deal and then lights up on the big day.

We inquired as to how and why there is only one rehearsal, assuming there would be an official dress leading up to Dec 24. The answer was surprising and a testament to the gift made by L.A., not only to its residents but to the performers as well. Each and every group is paid for their time by union standards. Anyone in the biz can whip out their calculators or just imagine the cost. Paying the performers for anything more than one rehearsal is simply too prohibitive. This is after all, a gift, an opportunity to give locals a chance to see artists, possibly from their own neighborhood perform live. It is a pricey undertaking mitigated by having as limited a rehearsal schedule as possible. We thought that was pretty, gosh darn cool and gained greater respect for the County in treating their artists as such. Few, if any, major cities have an annual event like this and that it has stood the test of time makes our Holiday Celebration something we should all value, support and appreciate for generations to come.

This annual holiday event is not only awesome in its multi-cultural groups spanning from all over the Los Angeles and surrounding areas, but is a long-standing tradition for many families. It is, for some, their first opportunity to attend the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion at the Music Center as the show is free. Audience members can arrive throughout the three-hour performance schedule if they so desire and leave when it is convenient, making this an ideal stop if you happen to be downtown or entertaining guests and want to catch a few groups before drinks.

For some local children, this is one of their first and probably most impressionable experiences seeing live dance performances and an assortment of bands while being exposed to varied cultures and music. For those unable to attend, the Holiday Celebration is usually the go-to program on TV and makes for an excellent background ambiance at a family gathering. It’s an integral part of Los Angeles and its holiday spirit, a gift that keeps giving and continues to inspire. If you’ve never been before, this is one holiday spectacular you don’t want to miss.

Some highlights this year: Invertigo Dance Theatre, celebrating the sunny weather that characterizes the winter season in L.A.; Jouyssance Early Music Ensemble, weaving the ancient Aztec language of Nahuatl with Spanish in its choral presentation of a traditional Mexican Christmas song; Las Cafeteras, blending Mexican folk with Afro-Caribbean rhythms; Pacifico Dance Company, presenting folklorico dance from the region of La Costa Chica; Shakti Dance Company, celebrating the classical dance of southern India; Shin Dance Company, symbolizing the snowy mountains of Chang Bai with an ethnic Korean drum dance; and Spirit Chorale of Los Angeles, singing a capella, spiritual arrangements of holiday classics. Visit the website for a complete list of performing groups and schedule.

Rehersal photos credit: Ed Krieger

Watch it live on KCET from 3-6 pm, and again from 8-11 pm. Hear it live on 90.7 KPFK. Stream it live at www.kcet.org. The L.A. County Holiday Celebration is a gift to the community from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Dec 24; Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles, 90012; FREE; Information hotline: (213) 972-3099 or www.HolidayCelebration.org

Want to know what other Theatre Critics are saying? Check out Bitter Lemons to see if others have reviewed this production.

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