Holiday theater is popular because it is nostalgic and because it is safe. Ralphie always breaks his glasses, Scrooge always chills out, and The Nutcracker will never offend your grandmother. Here, we preview four of the season's remaining holiday offerings. ALISON HALLETT
Love it or hate it, The Nutcracker endures. When I stopped by rehearsals a week before the show's opening, Oregon Ballet Theatre was abuzz with energy: five- to seven-year-old ballerinas milled about in peach and seafoam unitards, low buns in their hair and rouge on their cheeks. During rehearsals, 11 of the girls shuffled across the floor, weaving in and out of one another, practicing their best angels.
It's OBT's seventh year performing George Balanchine's The Nutcracker. The Tchaikovsky score, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and the toy soldiers are effusively sweet—almost to the point of contagion. Consider being a dancer and doing the show. Every. Single. Year. Between rehearsals I talked with dancer Michael Linsmeier (a Wisconsin native and new addition to OBT) who is in his eighth year performing the piece. He doesn't exactly look like the ballet type—rehearsing in a bandanna headband, piercings, and camouflage jumpsuit, with credits in a punk band (Taint Misbehavin'). While chatting, he mentioned a trip to Sparky's Pizza, where the speakers blared an electronic version of The Nutcracker's "Children's Gallop." Linsmeier said, groaning, "This piece has really lost its flavor." Regardless, I'm guessing the song stuck in his head for the rest of the day.
Arts for All discounts ($5 tickets when you present your Oregon Trail Card) are available for The Nutcracker, but if you can't make it to the live performance, lament not: For the first time ever, New York City Ballet is live streaming their Lincoln Center show. Lloyd Center will screen the performance on Tuesday, December 13. JENNA LECHNER
A Christmas Story andThe Santaland Diaries
Portland Center Stage, Gerding Theater at the Armory, 128 NW 11th, 445-3700, both shows run Tues-Sun 7:30 pm, Sat-Sun 2 pm; The Santaland Diaries closes Dec 31; A Christmas Story closes Dec 24; see pcs.org for ticket info
Portland Center Stage has fully succumbed to the season, with both their Main Stage and the smaller Ellen Bye Studio occupied with holiday fare. Both shows are reprisals of shows that ran last year (and, in the case of The Santaland Diaries, the year before as well); both are comedies that eschew at least some of the season's schmaltz.
After wringing every drop of cheer from A Christmas Carol, last year PCS introduced A Christmas Story as their new holiday main stage production. The show is based on stories Jean Shepherd originally wrote for Playboy, which then became a popular radio presentation, and then a film (the original radio recordings are on YouTube and make a decent alternative to Christmas music when a seasonal soundtrack is required). The theatrical version of A Christmas Story differs from the movie in some particulars, and the presence of fine local actors Tim True, Darius Pierce, and Valerie Stevens provides additional assurance that this won't be a straight reprisal of the movie—although bunny suits and shooting out one's eye are, of course, mandatory.
In the Ellen Bye Studio, another radio personality's holiday memoirs are reprised with The Santaland Diaries, based on David Sedaris' essay of the same name. Santaland describes Sedaris' experiences working as an elf at a Macy's Santaland—odds are you've heard or read the stories, but there's something to be said for seeing them performed live by a man in a ridiculous elf costume. In 2009 and 2010, Wade McCollum performed the role of the cranky elf Crumpet; this year, Minneapolis-based actor Jim Lichtscheidl tries his hand at the role, which involves multiple character shifts and a willingness to wear tights in public. AH
Imagine frog, rabbit, and sheep masks; add Steve Martin; throw in the chaotic sounds of balloons popping. You now have a partial picture of the Northwest Dance Project's seasonal show. Round it out with the intimate, candle-lit space of their studio, the scent of wassail filling the air, and fresh doughnuts, and you have an idea of In Good Company—an idyllic holiday package, minus the sap. "We have a 'no Nutcracker' policy," jokes Executive Director Scott Lewis.
The NWDP always has fresh ideas—In Good Company is no exception. The foundation for the show was laid in Lewis' basement, which houses his wall-to-wall record collection. After a couple listening parties, plus a few lessons on how to hold a record and operate a record player (a former music journalist and record store worker, Lewis' strict LP policies verge on High Fidelity standards), the dancers chose a setlist to choreograph. The music ranges from Nina Simone to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, which local DJ Anjali will mix live. Why LPs, you might ask? Partially for the nostalgic quality, and besides, "All these groovy hip Portlanders collect vinyl," says Artistic Director Sarah Slipper.
All jokes aside, it's clear that NWDP is seriously professional. Within the past six months alone they have won two major dance accolades: the Audience Award at the 25th International Competition for Choreographers (in Hanover, Germany), and the Sadler's Wells Global Dance Contest. "The Sadler dance house is the dance house in Europe," says Slipper, and NWDP will be performing there in London this June, as part of the Olympic festivities.
Slipper cites the Portland location, namely cheap studio space, as making their operation possible. NWDP manages their world-class troupe with a tiny administrative staff of three, and makes the trade by hiring their dancers as full-time professionals, who in turn have more artistic liberties; the dancers themselves choreographed all six numbers within In Good Company. After such a big year, their final 2011 show is sure to sell out—and with such stellar talent, there's good reason. JL