The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Galena Street East
Holiday Tapestry: A Winter Celebration - December 4, 2015
by Dick Frantzreb
“A Winter Celebration,” is the 44th annual “Holiday Tapestry” show from Galena Street East, and as I sat in my seat in the Hiram Johnson High School Auditorium and watched this dazzling show unfold, I kept asking myself how I could have lived in the Sacramento area for 32 years and not have experienced this local cultural institution. Galena Street East states up front that its mission is to “serve the community through entertainment presented by professionally trained young performers.” Accordingly, most of their performances throughout the year take place at schools, conventions, hospitals, care centers, shelters, community centers, and meetings of various community organizations — or in tours out of the Sacramento area. Holiday Tapestry is their big, local, public performance of the year.
There are a number of distinct performing troupes. The Galena Tour Company consists of 17 auditioned teenagers in 10th through 12th grade. Allegro and the East Street Gang are female and male groups, respectively, composed of 13- to 17-year-olds. The East Street Cloggers specialize in Appalachian, as well as Irish-style clogging, and may include members of the other groups. Finally, there is the International Children’s Chorus, composed of younger kids, ages 5 to 14. These young performers specialize in presenting music and dance from a wide array of countries. All these groups came together to put on a high-energy, fast-paced production that took me by surprise.
(Click here to open the program in a new window.)
The program didn’t list individual numbers, so I tried to write down song titles and descriptions of costumes and staging as each number was presented. I soon found that it was impossible: there was too much happening on the stage. If I tried to make notes about everything, I’d see nothing. I did count the individual musical numbers, and my count ran to 55, though I think there were at least a few more than that. All this was consolidated into a 2-hour show (with a 20-minute intermission), so you can see how fast everything moved. Kids ran offstage after a number. They had to… because they had only a few minutes — sometimes just seconds — to change costumes.
Let’s talk about the costumes for a moment. Each of the 60+ children in this show must have changed costumes a dozen time — maybe 20 times for the older performers. And the costumes themselves were stunning, each consistent with the musical number being presented, typically colorful, often elaborate and remarkably authentic when portraying a given culture or nation.
Now let’s talk about the music. I would say that maybe half the musical numbers were international or cross-cultural. Some of the countries I saw represented were: India, Italy, Germany, Philippines, Viet Nam, Hungary and Ukraine. And among cultures represented by full numbers were: Jewish, Hawaiian, and Hispanic. But there were many more numbers in which multiple countries and cultures were represented. Most of the music was seasonal, and I was amazed at the number of Christmas songs they presented that I’d never heard before — along with many familiar ones, of course.
Now let’s talk about the dancing. This was clearly a highlight of the show, and a part of nearly every number, even if it featured singing by a soloist or duet. The younger kids were included in many dance numbers, and it was cute to see some of the very youngest go through their routines. But the older performers were truly impressive. The choreography was itself brilliant, the work of Ron Cisneros, a top Sacramento dance professional. But the execution of the choreography was also brilliant. As these kids performed different nationally-themed styles of dance, I couldn’t help thinking how authentic they made it. Whether it was ballroom, clogging, tap, ballet or hula; Ukrainian, Spanish, Italian, Israeli, or Hungarian (a kind of step dance without music); or even rock-n-roll or street dancing, the performers didn’t just move their feet and arms appropriately, they embodied a whole culture or style in the way they carried themselves. The girls performed beautifully, as one might expect, and there was one highly trained girl who excelled in ballet and interpretive dance moves. But the boys really surprised me. Not only was their technique on a par with that of the girls, but I was amazed at some of their tumbling stunts and feats of strength. Many numbers included impressive lifts of the girls, requiring not only strength from the boys, but trust on the part of the girls.
Now let’s talk about the singing. Naturally, there was singing in almost every number. A good bit of it was brief solos by very young kids (and occasionally a full solo by one of the young ones). For the most part they sang on key, and they were, of course, very cute. (I can’t count the number of times I wrote “cute” in my notes.) Many other numbers featured solos or duets by the teenagers. For the most part I heard good, but adolescent voices — all with excellent stage presence (and that was true of the younger ones, too). And there were a few truly excellent singing performances. Of them, I recall the song about the Christmas Truce of 1914 and the performance of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (preceded by an explanation of the origin of Longfellow’s poem) as being particularly outstanding.
Of course there was a lot of ensemble singing, as well. I’m sure much of it was live, but I’m also sure that a lot of it had to be prerecorded, with the performers on stage lip-syncing to the words: they were usually moving around too much and dancing to energetically for me to believe that the well-balanced, good ensemble singing was coming live off the stage.
There were a lot of creative effects and props, too. There was a collective gasp of delight in the audience when the girls in one dance number pulled the front of their dresses over their heads, so that they looked like a big dancing Santa Claus head. And the train engine and Cinderella coach were especially impressive props.
It seemed to me that there wasn’t a great deal of emphasis on the religious aspect of Christmas until the last few numbers. But the next-to-last number included a narration of Jesus’ whole life, and the final number dramatized the circumstances of his birth, with shepherds, angels, Wise Men, and a real baby in the arms of Mary and Joseph.
There are many words that can describe this show, but I want to emphasize three: international, authentic, — and dazzling. The pace of the show was simply breathtaking, with no more than a few seconds between songs, and nearly every number was high-energy. The performers themselves were brimming with personality. And so much happened in the first hour that when they came to a finale number, I thought the show was over. What a surprise when the announcement came that this was intermission! This was really two or more shows for the price of one.
The large theater wasn’t quite full, but I got the feeling that a lot of the audience members were regulars. Why wouldn’t they come back? It’s hard to imagine a better show for getting one into the holiday spirit.