Issue #69

Last Update October 31, 2010

Arts  New York Revels '08 by Gert Innsry December 15, 2008   The New York Revels is the local branch of a national group, the Christmas Revels, which has branches in Cambridge MA, Boulder CO, Hanover NH, Houston TX, Portland OR, Puget Sound WA, Washington DC and San Francisco, CA. The Revels put on an annual Christmas show that is part Early Music concert, part sing-along, part ethnic music concert and part church pageant. It is always thoroughly enjoyable.

Normally the New York Revels are held at Symphony Space, and include paid performers, often from the country whose Christmas customs are being celebrated, as well as a cast of adult, teen and child chorister volunteers. This year, however, financial difficulties forced the cancellation of the Symphony Space performances. Instead, benefit performances, unpaid volunteers only, were held at the Church of the Holy Apostles on Ninth Avenue. While the show  did not have the benefit of sets and professional performers, it was as delightful as ever. The pieces, a collection of favorites from prior years loosely tied together by comments from two young narrators, were well chosen, and well performed by the amateur cast.

The Modern Brass Quartet was on hand for instrumental numbers and for backing up the singers. Between them and bells, recorder (Sandi Leibowitz), piano (Cynthia Shaw), fiddle (Michael Gorin) and viola da gamba (Lisa Terry), the songs, stories, poems and dances were very well accompanied.

The songs were old traditional songs from a variety of cultures: English, Irish, Welsh, Ukrainian, American (shape note and Shaker), French and Dutch. Most were carols, or motets, but there were many secular songs, ranging from children's ditties to wassailing songs to catches and other drinking songs. Singers included soloists, the chorus, and the entire audience. Audience participation, both in singing and in dancing (or parading) to the Lord of Dance, adapted from the Shaker song "Simple Gifts", is an integral part of the Revels. The dances included a Morris dance and the eerie Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, in which the dancers, wearing deer antlers, prance through a darkened theater, accompanied by the Boy Archer, the Man-Woman, the fool and the Hobby Horse, all folk figures, and weave a sinuous dance that recalls primitive nights by a camp fire.

We wish the Revels well in recovering from their financial problems, and hope to see them again in a real theater, with sets and imported musical and dance groups, but the performance this year was as satisfying as ever, and will continue to attract an enthusiastic audience even in its reduce form.

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