As Christmas nears, Angeleno children of all ages look forward to the 54th annual LA County Holiday Celebration. This multi-cultural, multi-disciplinary spectacle of song and dance rejoices in the gorgeous mosaic of LA’s multitude of heritages in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center. It will be broadcast live on KCET on December 24. Admission is free.
This year features first-time and veteran performers at the holiday-palooza, which is presented by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Among those making a return engagement is the Salvation Army Tabernacle Children’s Chorus, which kicks off a recent rehearsal at the Chandler’s fourth-floor studios, overseen by government functionaries and a TV crew led by executive producer Laura Zucker, the executive director of Los Angeles County Arts Commission. She checks timing, sound levels and more in preparation for the upcoming broadcast on live television.
TCC’s adorable children live up to their description in a press release as “the largest and youngest choir on the program… known for their ‘choralography’ and light-hearted holiday songs.” The multi-racial youngsters wear white shirts, evergreen bow ties, sashes, navy blue dresses for the lasses and slacks for the lads, who are outnumbered. Accompanied by live piano music, the TCC belts out “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” The children’s hand movements mime Dr. Seuss’ lyrics with hula-like gestures, in an expression of that special ire reserved for those who would dare tamper with kids’ holidays and presents. Grinches beware!
The Invertigo Dance Theatre is also returning to the Chandler’s stage this year. At the rehearsal Invertigo’s hoofers perform an original four-and-a-half-minute number called “Mishpachah” (“family” in Hebrew), which was choreographed by a dancer with Parkinson’s disease. Among other things this modern dance company teaches people with that affliction how to dance.
Giving Julie Andrews and Carrie Underwood a run for their gingerbread cookies, the Immaculate Heart of Mary Children’s Choir regales listeners with a delightful version of “My Favorite Things,” a favorite from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s beloved musical The Sound of Music (NBC-TV presented a live version of it on Dec. 5, starring American Idol winner Underwood). Members of the mostly female choir wear buttoned turquoise tunics with Nehru collars, black pants and shoes. Accompanied by live piano music, they also sing a Filipino Christmas carol, “Kampana Ng Simbahan,” in Tagalog.
Christmas may be ballyhooed as the most joyous time of the year, but for some the holidays don’t live up to their hype. Quetzal is debuting at the annual extravaganza with the plaintively sung “Cause”, a downbeat song by Sixto Rodriguez (the Chicano musician from Detroit featured in the Oscar-winning 2012 documentary Searching for Sugar Man) that isn’t exactly “Jingle Bells.”
Vocalist Martha Gonzalez explains that Quetzal chose to do the almost-six-minutes “Cause” at the Holiday Celebration “because the song is really a critique of high consumerism and the ways [in] which the holidays” reinforce the excess. “If you really stop watching television and look around you, there’s lots of people in need. We have lots of things to work on as a society… Sometimes they can’t be masked and we need to remember… If we commit to not buying anything in this season what would happen? What would that look like?” Gonzalez, who has a graduate degree in feminism from Seattle’s University of Washington, has been been with Quetzal for 18 years. She describes it as “an East LA band that incorporates rock, soul, R&B with traditional Mexican music and other Latin American forms.”
The group won a Grammy for Latin rock, urban or alternative album in 2013 for Imaginaries. It was founded 20 years ago by Quetzal Flores, who was raised in East LA. His birth name refers to a legendary “bird that’s greatly revered among indigenous populations in Mexico… that the Spaniards discovered could not live in captivity,” he says. “It’s a message of liberation.”
Flores wrote the lyrics for the song “Solitude,” performed by the group that bears his name. Echoing Gonzalez, Flores says, “Quetzal is accountable to the community… and this idea of commercialism doesn’t work for everybody. There’s a lot of people who don’t engage in it and don’t have the luxury to engage in it… I’m talking about all colors of working-class people.” The Salinas-born musician says he’s “a huge John Steinbeck fan!” — a literary influence heard in Quetzal’s socially conscious lyrics.
Flores adds that when fellow musicians chide him from a business point of view by saying, “‘You’re shooting yourself in the foot with all this political stuff,’ I reply: ‘No, we’re shooting the shackles between our ankles.’” Quetzal’s next album, Quetzanimales, is about L.A.’s urban animals.
The City of the Angels is widely regarded as being one of the world’s most ethnically diverse metropolises, which this Holiday Celebration embraces to the hilt. At the rehearsal Jung Im Lee Korean Dance Academy performs a traditional number presented at happy occasions that combines drumming with graceful choreography. Ten long-haired, female Korean teenagers play two-sided customary maroon, red and pine brown drums with drumsticks as they dance, wearing flowing skirts, black leg warmers and ballet shoes with pointed tips. Their final hand movements are accompanied by silence.
The 45-member Palmdale High School Choral Union and the Sunday Night Singers, composed of current students and graduates of Palmdale High, sing a cappella versions of tunes more familiar to conventional American ears, such as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and “Frosty the Snowman.” Displaying their versatility, the three rows of ebullient singers also rehearse a more solemn piece, “Coventry Carol,” arranged by Norwegian choral composer Ola Gjeilo. The number of songs they will perform on Dec. 24 depends on whether the live three-hour telecast is running long or needs to stretch.
The JazzAntiqua Dance & Music Ensemble, which is based at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in mid-city, is back for what may be its 10th performance at the Holiday Celebration. The ensemble enlivens the rehearsal proceedings with four gentlemen in black slacks, vests, ballet shoes, white shirts and red ties and a quartet of ladies clad in red sheer chiffon dresses with halter tops and wide-legged, red, flowing Gaucho pants, cutting the proverbial rug with a series of sweeping, stirring, swirling, rapturous, hopeful movements. Artistic director and choreographer Pat Taylor, who founded the company 20 years ago, says the piece is called “Blessed Quietness,” a traditional hymn from the 1800s with a jazz arrangement accompanied by pianist Ark Sano.
Taylor, who created the work’s choreography, says that “the premise behind the group and what we’re most passionate about is exploring the relationship between jazz dance and jazz music and keeping that legacy alive. We call ourselves ‘jazz ambassadors.’ We always work with live music.” Taylor added that JazzAntiqua, which has performed at the Playboy Jazz Festival, is an evocation of and grows out of the African American experience. “Particularly with our emphasis on jazz, blues and gospel music. Jazz so parallels the African American story; it’s almost inherent,” states Taylor, who majored in dance at UCLA and studied at New York’s Ailey School.
Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet rehearses a dance number inspired by the god Quinto Sol which celebrates the Aztec roots of Mexican culture. The troupe’s colorful Aztec costumes include $7,000 worth of feathers adorning their headgear.
According to a press release, in alphabetical order the other participants include:
Aditya Prakash Ensemble will debut on the Holiday Celebration with a celebratory performance blending classical Indian music with jazz and Latin rhythms.
ARC Hand Bell Choir will return with traditional holiday repertoire.
Artemusica, a 26-member vocal ensemble will perform holiday classics in the baroque style.
Ate9 dANCEcOMPANY, directed by former Batsheva dancer Danielle Agami will debut on the Holiday Celebration with a modern dance work created for the show.
Colburn Children’s Choir and Young Men’s Chorus, a 50-voice ensemble of the Colburn School of Performing Arts, will perform holiday songs in Hebrew and English.
Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles will return to this year’s program with traditional holiday repertoire.
Gypsy Allstars, featuring the sons of the internationally recognized Gipsy Kings will perform music fusing Spanish rhythms with Eastern influences.
Harana Men’s Chorus*, directed by LA Master Chorale singer Ed Nepomuceno, will perform seasonal repertoire in English and Tagalog.
Mariachi Divas de Cindy Shea, a Grammy Award-winning female mariachi ensemble, will perform a selection of traditional holiday music in English and Spanish.
Praizum, a 20-member vocal ensemble, will perform classic gospel hymns and spirituals with a contemporary flavor.
Sarah Reich and Tap Music Project will debut on the Holiday Celebration with a tap dance performance set to live holiday music.
South Bay Children’s Choir, an 80-voice ensemble, will sing traditional seasonal favorites.
The 54th Annual L.A. County Holiday Celebration, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A., 90012. Dec. 24. Doors open at 2:30 pm. Performances from 3 pm-6 pm. Free admission and parking. No reservations required. The entire show will be broadcast live on KCET from 3 pm-6 pm and again from 8 pm-11 pm. It will also be livestreamed on www.kcet.org from 3 pm-6 pm. The show will repeat on KCET at 12 pm, 3 pm and 9 pm on Dec. 25. www.HolidayCelebration.org. 213-972-3099.