Saturday, December 5, 2009

Enter Exit: A new view of holidays past

Nostalgia may be death, culturally, but it is also one of the things that, for better or worse, connects us, and there is probably no better example of this than the predictable, theatrical free-fall during the “holiday season,” when everything comes to a complete standstill and we relive our childhoods, and pass them on to the next generation, with the tiresome, but irresistibly uplifting classics of the season — the seemingly endless productions, for example, of ”A Christmas Carol” (which we read somewhere is being staged by a half-dozen companies within a sleigh ride of Newburyport) and “The Nutcracker,” the irresistible 800-pound gorilla of the season. Complaining only makes you look like a Grinch, an association we have finally come to terms with. And, besides, this is what people really want — something warm, comfortable, familiar. But one company has managed to find a way to, so to speak, eat the fruitcake and have it, too — combining the warm, fuzzy nostalgic core of the holiday zeitgeist with a hip, modern outlook. That would be Exit Dance Theatre, a modern dance company founded more than two decades ago, whose style is deeply rooted in theater techniques, improvisation and collaboration.

This weekend, the troupe doing all that — and more — in its show “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” a monster collaboration that brings together members of Exit and Joppa Jazz Dance Company, as well as unaffiliated dance students who answered an open audition call, as well as local singer-songwriter Kate Redgate, who will emcee the show — a total of over 60 performers in all. The show grew out of Exit's “Nutbuster,” an original, modern and amped-up version of “The Nutcracker,” which played to rave reviews for the past two years. In “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” the idea is the same, but the choreography by Fontaine Dubus, Erin Foley, Sarah George, Pam Smith, Jen Steeves and Cheryl Schwind is new. Each “day” is told through movement, bringing a new approach to the traditional song. And it’s “a mixed bag of styles,” says Dubus, one of Exit's founding members — and not necessarily your idea of traditional Christmas atmospherics, with music by Rusted Root, which manages to mix Dead-like psychedelia with African and Middle Eastern rhythms, and Gilbert Bacaud, known as “Monsieur 100000 Volts” for his energetic performances (for the French hens a-laying day, natch). But the company, while presenting new approaches to the original song, has connected it to the past — to the nostalgia and the magic of our collective youth with Redgate, who will sing the original song and — be forewarned — lead the audience in a sing-along between dance pieces.

Of course, the philosophical question becomes, what happens if Exit's “Twelve Days” becomes an ingrained part of the holiday fabric in Newburyport? Will future generations of blogging Grinches gripe about it?

Let's call it a question for another generation.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Exit Dance Theatre presents “The Twelve Days of Christmas” through Dec. 6.The show features choreography by Fontaine Dubus, Erin Foley, Sarah George, Pam Smith, Jen Steeves and Cheryl Schwind. Kate Redgate will emcee. Tickets are $16, $15 for members of the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities, and $12 for students and seniors. For more information, call 978-462-7336 or log onto the Firehouse web. Photo is courtesy of Brent Mitchell.

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