the Christmas Revels

"Welcome Yule... your feet never moved so fast!"

The Christmas Revels has spread to cities across the US, but it started in Cambridge MA in 1971 and continues to remain strong with it’s throngs of devoted annual attendees in the gorgeous and decadently carved wooden Sander Theater on the Harvard University campus. Every year they choose a different culture, and recreate onstage a vibrant little town scene that depicts how the residents would have celebrated the winter solstice through their local music, dance, and other folk traditions.

2007 was the year of the pan-Balkan village, and the directors hired some Balkan mercenaries to bring some authenticity to the stage. Petar Petrov (of Ludo Mlado), the forever optimistic and flashy dancer/teacher/choreographer, was brought in to dazzle the audience with his footwork and Bulgarian exclamations, and also to choreograph two segments for our dance group, Mladost. I had just joined Mladost, a folk dance ensemble filled with the children of the Folk Arts Center a month or two before.

The rest of the cast (chorus), and crew were meeting up regularly in their Watertown Church hangout for months before we joined them. We had been meeting with Petar at our studio provided, ever-so-kindly, by The Jeannette Neill Dance Studio in downtown Boston across from the new Boston Garden (or whatever bank it’s named after at this point). Learning the fast footwork and nuances took many hours and always began with a lively warm-up in the sprightly stylings of the tank-topped Petar Petrov, and ended with the careful, loving, and intense (read “painful”) stretching session by Andy Taylor Blenis, our fearless director, folk dance community leader, accomplished modern dancer/choreographer, and supermom. Their dynamic combo pushed us to be convincing 17th century Bulgarian dancers. Both were vital. Without Andy, Petar would have changed the choreography every week, and without Petar we never would have learned how to yell “watch out world we’re going to break you” in Bulgarian, apparently a common threat given by dancers. Additionally we wouldn’t have had a choreography, which may have cut down on our standing ovations. There were many hours of rehearsals, and many low resolution videos taken on my little point and shoot to help remember the footwork. To the left is a sample without which I probably never would have learned “the 3 nasties.”

Once we started meeting with the rest of the Revels family I began to get small peeks into why Erika and Catherine had spent their childhoods growing up as Revels kids. There are Revels families who seem to spawn children simply to fill future Sanders Theater stages. One of the highlights of the run was abducting the eldest daughter of the Torreys, a Revels devotee, Lillian (frequent artproject friend). Seems that once she slipped on her opanci, she never looked back.

There were all kinds of Revels traditions… 38 years is certainly enough time to build traditions and a culture of one’s own. From the rising call of “Welcome Yule!” 2 minutes before showtime, to the hours of margaritas, quesadillas, and singing after every show at Border’s cafe, there was not only the sense of family that comes behind the curtains with every show, but also a sense of familial history and tradition. We created our own as well… including the pre-dance “hop” circular inspired by Elliot’s prior Rugby days.

It’s by far the largest and most complex performance I’ve ever been a part of with around 20 performances through the month of December, and people in charge of everything from costumes, lighting, makeup and merchandise to child wrangling. The kids were amazingly cute and fun when appropriate and quiet when needed. Congrats to the parents and child wranglers.

So the actual dance. We emerged just before intermission to do a choreography to Trite Puti and Kopanica, and then another choreography to Shopsko near the end of the show. Thanks to Revels, there’s a nice video of Shopsko online. Unfortunately I wasn’t dancing the night they filmed.

view Shopsko Video

In true Revels style, I’d like to end this in the way we ended many nights at Borders. I’d like to share “the Parting Glass,” one of the favorite songs to bring the night to a close, drinks raised high:


1 comment

Why do you only email our grandmother? why? and why are you selling cheap cialis on your website? where are you and what are you doing? i’m in berlin with the third of our kind – it is a heap of fun – some leisure, but not much. much love.


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