Patrick B. McGuigan, Publisher and Arts/Entertainment Critic
It is difficult – nay, impossible – to choose one favorite moment in the 2017 edition of “Home for the Holidays,” the annual tribute to dance and all things Christmas at Oklahoma City University. But for pure fun and unexpected joy, try this: You will believe a cookie can dance.
With the music of The Ellas over the sound system and the choreography of Julie Russell Stanley and the striking dancing of an American beauty (sorry, I know not her name) as the baker, six gingerbreak cookies swirled arcross the stage. No matter which way they turned (front and back) they were … dancing cookies. Authentic, delightful, perfectly coordinated in their amusing movements.
This moment in tribute to baked goods everywhere is well-staged and perfectly timed – as is usually the case when Jo Rowan, director, is involved. The perfection in timing is because after a mostly raucous and stunning first act and five numbers pre-cookies, the show turns to the sublime, closing with a series of numbers that will bring peace and anticipation to even the Scrooge-like hearts in our midst. Kuri Shaw’s choreography and seven beings of blue light present new possibilities in Gordon Lightfoot’s “Song for a Winter Night.” Then, Enya’s recording of “Journey of the Angels” gives us nine heavenly feminine figures in stunning coordination, from the design of Jessica Fay.
Then, from the brilliant troupe of the Aemrican Spirit Dance Company, we see a demonstration that sometimes the greatest and most resonant songs are the most tender and subdued.
To the tune and words of “Silent Night” and the choreography of Tye Love and Tiffany van der Merwe, the company of shepherds, kings and servants moves around the still, motherly figure of a woman who moves only a couple of times – an indelible image of the Virgin Mary holding the child, Jesus. Her stillness peaks truth to the ages.
All this is prelude to Jo Rowan’s powerful closers – Handel’s “Halleluyah Chorus” brings to the stage all the males and a dozen of the female dancers in a glorious interpretation. (I almost stood, like the monarch long ago at the premiere of the chorus.) That segues into the grand finale, a medly of Happy Holidays, White Christmas and Joy to the World.
Wow! The foregoing praise for the spiritually-inclined dances is not to diminish the the worthiness of what came before in Act I and early Act II.
“Let it Snow” – on the coldest night so far this winter – served as fitting prelude to “The Frist Snow and a “Frolic” – choreographed, respectively, by Vincent Sandoval, Julie Russell Stanley and Love, yielding to the tender sentiments and movements of “The Christmas Song.”
The dancers had sooo much fun,t hen, with the “Christmas Shoppers’ Can-Can,” complete with Santa and an Ortodox-looking Rabbi in the company. Even those who object to the hyper-commercialization of the holidays will smile over “Five more days to Christmas,” crafted, in turn, for the performers by van der Merwe and Kelly Stevens.
Choreographers Cassie Van Houton, Paige Porter, Aaron Loyd Pomeroy, Alana Martin and Tiffany Warford laid out a series of holiday favorites to provide a visual feast for our eyes, this writer’s favorite being the Act One closer, “Go Tell it on The Mountain.”
With an endearing gesture, this year’s performances are dedicated to the memory of the late Jerald C. Walker (1938-2016), long president at OKCU and to his wife Virginia (Ginny).
The dance extravanganza is part of the annual and amazing weekend of great music and entertainment at Oklahoma City University. The comedy “Noises Off” continues today (Friday) and tomorrow, while the serene sounds of Christmas Vespers are slated for tonight and tomorrow afternoon at First Prestyterian on N. Western (just a few blocks east of the OKCU campus).
Show times for “Holidays” are 8 p.m., December 8 and 9, and 2 p.m. Dec. 9 and 10. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased by calling 405-208-5227 or visiting okcu.edu/tickets. Group rates are available.
Trust me, please. This is as good as it gets hereabouts or anywhere (OKCU is now a leading, if not the leading, supplier of professional dancers in American theater.)
Indeed, the annual “Home for the Holidays” is, as touted in the university’s publicity, “A gift of American Dance.”
If you can, get thee unto one of the remaining performances!