This Christmas Revels’ 2016 spectacle A Nordic Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance, and Drama revisits the wonderful culture, myths, songs, dances, regional costumes of Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, and Karelia – the region to the east with a music, language, and culture related to that of Finland.
Parts of the 2016 Washington Revels program of the Nordic countries of Europe were very much like those of the 2005 program, which I attended and have many fond memories. I remember attending the Nordic Revels program that year and falling in love with such offerings from the Nordic region as the Finnish stories from the Finnish epic stories called the Kalevala regarding the creation of the world. Such characters as Väinämöinen, according to Finnish legend, was the first man and the first musician credited with the creation of the zither-like musical instrument important to tradition Finnish and Karelian music called the “kantele. He and Ilmarinen are the central characters in this epic Finnish saga whose quest it was to restore light to a dark world. The sun and moon are important in this creation myth coming from gigantic eggs whose yolk formed the sun and whose white formed the moon. And the witch queen Louhi, who was many feet tall and had spent 700 years in labor, were all important themes during this winter solstice theme on display during the Nordic Christmas Revels.
The winter solstice, as celebrated in this display of Nordic myth and legend during this performance, can be dark, cold and wintry in that part of Europe. One can only imagine how the characters of Nordic myth and legend, and of the Finnish creation myth, came into being – likely in pre-Christian times. It was nice to see that they are still remembered, and that this was included in thes performance.
There are “icons” in the program like an ugly troll living under a bridge eating goats as in the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” performance of Norwegian origin, the kids performing roles as Christmas porridge-loving “nisse,” – elf of traditional Norwegian culture – the Swedish “tomtenisse” – elves of the Northern night – and woodland number, and the “Tomtarnas Julnatt” (The Elves’ Christmas Night). And also the “hidden people” or supernatural beings of Iceland who hide in rocks and cliffs.
The song Ólafur Liljurós in the program sings of young Ólafur and his encounter with female elves. Even in modern Iceland, some people still believe in elves.
These themes are delightfully interspersed with a Christian advent hymn sung in the Norwegian version “Folkefrelsar” or “Savior of the People,” and with a performance of the Swedish “Sankta Lucia” or “Feast of Saint Lucy,” which marked the light of lit candles in a wreath on a girl’s head who is dressed in white with a red sash during the Festival of Light.
Ordinary fiddles and the Swedish “nyckelharpa” – or keyed fiddle- is played as she leads children who are carrying saffron buns and hot coffee to their parents. Again the symbolic theme of bringing light to the winter darkness.
Dances like the Springar and the Hallingdans of Norway and the polska, and springdans of Sweden, the vikivaki dance of Iceland, and the sword dance from Papa Stour Island of the Shetland Islands are featured.
I especially enjoyed the hallingdans of Norway where dancer Tom Løvli danced in a circle under a hat stuck on a pole and slapped and stamped his shoes in time to the music as her made “come hither” movements with his fingers as he passes under the hat. Finally he leapt high in the air and kicked the hat off of the pole.
One gets the feeling of overlays of periods of both pre-Christian and Christian themes regarding Christmas fused together, as shown through these folk traditions. And I had a lovely time seeing the imagery of rural folk of Norway and Sweden using “herding calls” to summon animals in mountain regions, and the use of a singing voice in a Norwegian region to imitate the sound of a fiddle.
This Nordic Revels program calls to mind winter, darkness, mountain, forest, nature, myths and legends mixed with Nordic Christmas traditions celebrating cheer on cold and dark Northern nights in a pleasing and entertaining way. I look forward to attending next year’s production.
And now, allow me to give credit to all the lovely producers and performers and performing groups in this splendid celebration of cultural and musical of all things Nordic:
Artistic Director/Stage Director: Roberta Gasbarre.
Music Director: Elizabeth Anne Fulford.
Children’s Stage Director: Jenni Voorhees.
Children’s Music Director: H. Katherine Toton
Associate Director: Sam Game.
Assistant Director: Eva Louise Martin.
2nd Assistant Director: Daniel G. Mori.
Assistant Music Directors: Terrance Johns and William Wurzel.
Set and Lighting Designer: Colin K. Bills.
Costume Designer: Rosemary Pardee.
Associate Costume Designer: Rachael Feola.
Children’s Costume Designer: Cecily Pilzer.
Props and Puppet Designer: Alex Vernon.
Make-up Designers: Linda Smith Nissen and Jenni Voorhees.
Brass Arrangements: Elizabeth Anne Fulford.
Nordic Dance Consultants: Linda Brooks and Ross Schipper.
Lord of the Dance Consultant: James Voorhees.
Abbots Bromley Dance Consultant: David Roodman.
And thank you to all the performers:
Merja Soria, ancient songs
of Finland with kantele
Tom Løvli, traditional dance from Norway
Matthew M. Nielson
Sarah Olmsted Thomas
Susan Hall Lewis
Northern Lights Band
Andrea Hoag, fiddle
lydia ievins, nyckelharpa, 5-string fiddle
Loretta Kelley, fiddle, hardingfele
Charlie Pilzer, string bass, pipe organ
Robert Birch, director, trumpet
Bryan Bourne, bass trombone
Jeff Gaylord, trombone
Andrew Houde, French horn
Fred Marcellus, trumpet
Don Spinelli, percussion
Susan Hall Lewis
Alexa Malanos Silverman
Christina Zola Peck
Cutting Edge Sword
Scandia DC Dancers
Linda Brooks, director
Ross Schipper, director
Fiona Alexandra Bondarev
Julia Sigrist Klam
Codruț T. Pintea White
Ava Marian Stebbins
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, including one intermission.
The Christmas Revels’ A Nordic Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance, and Drama plays through this Sunday, December 18, 2016, at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium – 730 21st Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call 1-800-595-4849, or purchase them online.
The Christmas Revels’ ‘A Nordic Celebration of the Winter Solstice in Music, Dance, and Drama’ at Lisner Auditorium reviewed by Howard Lee Levine.