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Every holiday season is fraught with commitments, gatherings, cards and cooking. It’s become so hectic that one can almost forget that the season means taking in the sights and celebrations that accompany this time of year. Here, we share three favorites that, in their own ways, dazzle children of all ages: The Portland Ballet, Imago Theatre and Portland Revels.
For months now, members of The Portland Ballet have been busy rehearsing for their upcoming performances of two ballets, “The Enchanted Toyshop” and “Firebird.” These will be presented over Thanksgiving weekend (November 29 – December 1, 2013) at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall.
According to Caitlin Dwyer, The Portland Ballet’s marketing manager, “This year, The Portland Ballet dancers have two ballets to learn and rehearse for our Thanksgiving weekend productions,” Dwyer said. “Both are stories of magic that draw on the visual, and ‘The Enchanted Toyshop’ is very comedic.”
Thanksgiving Weekend performances for “Firebird” and “The Enchanted Toyshop” include six performances at Lincoln Performance Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.
PSU Box Office or 503.725.3307.
All other performances, reserved seats: $15 youth/student, $35 adult, and $90 family package (two adult, two youth). Limited pay-what-you-will seats are available for every performance, available day of, one hour before curtain, at the theater box office only.
The company of young dancers rehearsed under the watchful eyes of choreographer John Clifford, the founder of the original Los Angeles Ballet, and a master of dance choreography who studied with George Balanchine. Clifford updated “The Enchanted Toyshop” for The Portland Ballet, which is known originally as “La Boutique Fantasque” and was choreographed by Leonide Massine in 1919.
The company added John Clifford’s “Firebird” to the 90-minute program. The Portland Ballet’s version of “Firebird” grew out of Clifford’s Los Angeles Ballet adaptation of Fokine’s original — a Russian fairy tale-inspired production originally staged in 1910.
Adding to the splendor, the Portland State University Orchestra, directed by Ken Selden, will play Respighi and Stravinsky at every performance.
“Audiences are getting more bang for their buck,” Dwyer said. “Our Thanksgiving weekend show is our biggest of the year. It’s longer, with beautiful costumes, a gorgeous set and moving, live music.”
Started in 2001 by dancers Nancy Davis and Jim Lane, The Portland Ballet provides training for young dancers who aspire to continue on to professional companies. Davis and Lane are former principal dancers with the original Los Angeles Ballet. The Portland Ballet Youth Company’s 22 dancers come from local high schools in Portland-area communities.
The company performs three annual productions: the Thanksgiving weekend holiday ballet, a mixed repertoire concert Spring Ballet (which showcases talent from The Portland Ballet’s Youth Company) and the Masters Workshop (which performs dances designed by local and national/world-renowned choreographers working with young dancers in an intensive workshop). Advanced dancers audition in the early spring for acceptance in the Masters Workshop.
In addition to the Youth Company, The Portland Ballet provides curriculum ballet training for dancers ages 6 to 22 (auditions required) and creative ballet for little ones, ages 3 to 6. It also holds weekly, open adult and teen classes on a “drop-in” basis.
The Oregon Ballet Theatre features adult performers, while The Portland Ballet showcases younger talent.
“We’re focused on children and youth development,” Dwyer explained. “Rather than bringing in adults to fill major roles, we fill those, too. The best way to get students involved in a serious way is to give them performance experience and let them shine.”
Frogz, the original classic by Imago Theatre, is a performance that will elicit giggles, wide eyes and wows. But this fun, family show is not just for kids. Parents and grandparents will find it to be a rollicking good holiday presentation.
“It’s the kind of experience where parents take special delight in watching their kids watch the show,” said Imago co-founder and creative director Carol Triffle.
Performed on a bare stage, Imago’s masked frogs and other creatures command the audience’s full attention as the animals are placed in humanized and often comical situations. The New York Times calls the show nothing less than “a mastery of mime, dance and acrobatics.”
“The audience starts to wonder how these creatures can do things, given that our only special effects are masks, lighting and sound,” Triffle said.
In addition to Frogz, there’s an interpretation of penguins doing musical chairs in the tundra; mutating, rolling and gibbering orbs; lizards; and a cowboy clip-clopping through the desert.
“Everything transforms, so we try to keep the audience guessing and do the unexpected,” Triffle said. “People don’t necessary want a narrative or drama-driven story, but Frogz has 10 pieces, each with a beginning and an end.”
Frogz will be performed December 13, 2013, through January 5, 2014, at the Imago Theatre, located at 17 SE 8th Ave.
Recommended for ages 4 and older.
Tickets: $16 kids, $27 youth/senior, $31 adults
Call 503.231.9581 or TicketsWest at 503.224.8400, or TicketsWest online.
Triffle and co-founder Jerry Mouawad started doing mask theatre as performers in their twenties, founding Imago Theatre in 1979. Since first touring Frogz in the 1980s, they’ve grown their production of Frogz from just three performers to now about five.
Triffle explained that acting in Frogz is as physical as being in a dance performance. “You’re busy, using your body all the time, and interacting with the audience,” she said. “The actors have to be funny to be in this show, and they have to be physical. Some of our performers are dancers, some are acrobats, and others study tai chi.”
Triffle said that originally they had trouble finding talent in Portland that suited the show, so they had to audition in New York. “Now it’s easier to find people in Portland who are interested in this kind of work,” she said. “Our current cast members are all transplants, but we did recruit them in Portland.”
Frogz has been on Broadway twice and the company will be on tour in the month of November before coming home to Portland for its holiday performances. Imago is working on an itinerary that will take it to China, France and perhaps Egypt. Oh, and Park City, Utah. “They love us there,” Triffle said.
“We first staged this show 30 years ago and each year, our actors bring something new to the performance,” she recalls. “It’s really fun, I still laugh at it.”
“And each time, it feels like magic when we turn up the lights.”
On the eve of its 20th year of performing locally, the Portland Revels will stage a holiday feast’s worth of traditional songs and dance from Central and Southeastern Europe (Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia, Georgia, Macedonia, Serbia and Poland).
All performances at Scottish Rite Center Theater, at 1515 SW Morrison in downtown. Box office 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday – Friday, or call 503-200-1604.
Rear main floor and mid-balcony seats:
Each year, the Portland Revels unveil their Christmas show to help audiences enjoy the more traditional side of the holidays with outstanding shows highlighting celebrations of family, community and life — a time long before we all sat motionless on the couch staring at smart phones. The gorgeous costumes, set design and fabulous music complement its chorus of 65 singers, ages six to over 70.
One of the Revels’ fans said it best: “The Christmas Revels is like that old tradition where carolers come to your home and sing, except that in this case, you’re invited into their home, and asked to stay a while. What I like the most about it, though, is the historical aspect. Each year, they pick a new time and place from which to regale you.”
The scene of this year’s show is a Winter Solstice party in Old Europe, featuring an empress, townspeople, an extraordinary clock, the clash of regional rivalries, and what happens when they all come together.
The show is infused with humor and silliness, and includes instrumental music from the Portland Brass Quintet and other special guests. Other performers include Eric Stern of The Vagabond Opera as the village Mayor, Ithica Tell as the Empress, and the Revels’ favorite fool Burl Ross as Hodiny, the clockmaker’s klutzy assistant.
“For many, including myself, the Christmas Revels offers an extraordinary experience of community connection in the audience and a seasonal boost of joy,” said Debby Garman, Portland Revels executive director. “The combination of glorious music, deeply resonant ritual and cultural traditions — along with a dash of silly business and audience participation — is pure magic. Plus, it works brilliantly to drive the winter dark away!”
Following its Christmas show, the Portland Revels will kick off its anniversary year with participatory Pub Sings in January, June and September; and cultural salons in March and November. It will offer multiple concerts of song and spoken word from its ViVoce Singers, as well as performances by other traditional folk artists brought to Portland for special performances.
It also plans a new, free event, Revels SummerFaire, a celebration of world performing arts and family activities that will take place at Portland State University’s campus July 12, 2014.