.by Anura Guruge
1. Christmas Revels 2013 at Dartmouth — Aug. 7, 2013.
2. Christmas Revels 2012 at Dartmouth — Dec. 17, 2012.
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Of course, more or less by definition it was good. The HOP (definitely) and Revels North not known for putting on duds — though this show, in my opinion, flirted, dangerously, at times, with that appellation for this supposed Appalachian romp.
It was a good production though this was the most minimalistic Revels set I have ever seen (I think). As far as I can see the only props they had were a few sorry benches. The pseudo psychedelic projected backdrop was neither here nor there and I am at a loss as to what it had to do with Appalachia, the Revels, Yule or even the time of day.
The ameteur cast, with all those wonderful kids, was as ever amazing. Their commitment, dedication and talent is awe inspiring. Over the last two years I have come to appreciate what they achieve each Christmas even more since I have been taking Devanee (our 13 year old) for ‘Clearlakes Chorale‘ practices/rehearsals on a weekly basis. Clearlakes and Revels North both do their Christmas show roughly at the same time (this year on the same weekend) and moreover start their practices/rehearsals at the same time, i.e., early September. What is takes to pull off Revels is a few orders of magnitude more complex than what it takes to do a Chorale performance — and I get to see the effort that goes into pulling Clearlakes off (partly because I invariably end up lending a hand). So, I have nothing but unstinted admiration and praise for the Revels North ameteur cast. Bravo.
The Sword Dance was one of the best in recent years — though given that we were in the front row, center, as usual, I did spot some fumbling.
The Morris Dance was good. The prolonged ‘Lord Of The Dance‘, in which I partook, as I always do, was uplifting as it is meant to be.
The Brass, ‘Heritage Bass‘, was outstanding — and that I noticed them more and actually paid attention to them, at the expense of paying much notice to what little was happening on the stage, kind of tells its own story.
What I am now going to say does border on the sacrilegious and I worry that the gods of Revels will strike me down — though I also get a sneaking feeling that they may be with me on this.
Deanna’s take at intermission is a good place to start. After I came back from going and congratulating the ‘Heritage Bass’ (and getting a wonderful, hands-on tutorial on the Tuba), I asked her, knowing to an extent what I will hear (given that I do know my wife of 11 years quite well) what she thought. She started by saying: ‘I am worried to even say anything because YOU will get mad …’! And that is the crux of the problem. Deanna and the kids know that I am a sucker for Revels and that as such ‘Revels can do no wrong in my book’. Well, that is usually the case and I still continue to be a sucker for Revels. Now, more than ever, given that I feel that I have yet to enjoy a PROPER Revels in 2013, I most likely will have to get tickets and go to the Mother-ship performance by Revels Cambridge.
Deanna and the kids did not like it at all. I knew, 20 minutes in, that that would be the case. They, all seasoned Revelers, like a traditional, very European Revels.
Let me throw a few words and phrases as to what WE felt about Revels North Christmas Revels 2013 before I also explore some thoughts as to what happened.
Lacked the Revels spark.
Unthematic and choppy with the Yule elements appearing to be add ons.
Pete Sutherland is probably an AMAZING musician but he is not a Revels player.
Suzannah Park is IMPRESSIVE (and striking) but I am not sure whether she carried this show.
I fully understand that producers have to experiment, try new things and stretch the envelope.
I also gather that this was supposed to be a tribute etc. That is all very good. But, don’t deprive ME of Revels.
So, I appreciate, that this is very personal. Yes, of course, people loved it. I heard them say it. But, we also got the impression that there were a lot of people with ‘free’ or discounted tickets at our performance.
We had a late lunch at the Dartmouth (over-priced) cafeteria in the HOP prior to the 5pm performance. There was a visually impaired gentleman who was holding court, in a very loud voice, also having something to eat at the same time — surrounded by a bunch of groveling admirers. You couldn’t but hear him talk … Appears that he was a ‘big shot’ from Revels in New York. He had some interesting things to say about the different shows. He talked about the ‘Irish Revels on a ship‘ from last year, for example. (And that was one heck of a show at Dartmouth.) He had an interesting theory that this Appalachian show proved. He was saying that people just prefer European themed Revels — the more ‘Germanic’ the better. He probably has that right.
I have harped on enough.
Bottom line, this was too ‘cultural’ NOT enough Revels.
I paid ($110 I think) expecting to be Reveled not to get an academic, discourse on Appalachian musical heritage.
Will I go to Revels North next year? Most likely.
I could be wrong but I kind of feel bad for the ameteur cast. I get a feeling that they knew that this was not Revels — and it is NOT their fault. They have to do what the management decides.
But maybe I am going to switch allegiance. Rather than Revels North being the Primary Revels and Cambridge the ‘stand-by’, we might, especially now that the kids are older and can weather the trip to Boston better, do Cambridge as the primary and Dartmouth if we feel we need a second dose for the year.