‘Tis the season for Christmas-music concerts, holiday-themed celebrations of all colors kinds, shapes and sounds, the loudest and brightest and most pervasive of which is The Nutcracker.
For us here at Royce Hall, the Nutcracker has taken over….last week with the Debbie Allen Dance Company’s interpretation of the classic work–The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker, which has become a perennial favorite for L.A. audiences this time of year. As I type this, I can hear sets moving above me as the hall and our (extremely and also perennially hard-working) production team sets up for L.A. Ballet to converge this weekend with their annual traditional Nutcracker performances. We pause our program as these two local groups take over the hall and create some holiday cheer for arts lovers.
I don’t think I am alone as an arts lover when I say I have very warm and nostalgic feelings about The Nutcracker. It was an annual tradition for my family, and especially beloved by me, a young flute player.
All this Nutcracker activity has gotten me thinking about the arts and this season. For many young people, The Nutcracker is likely their first professional live-performance experience, their first introduction to ballet or classical music, the doors to these art forms flung wide in the wake of the magical story and excitement of the holidays.
And for many people, perhaps that first Nutcracker experience became more than an introduction, perhaps often it served as a complete indoctrination. Perhaps many of the audiences and arts patrons who now love contemporary dance from around the world, or gleefully celebrate up and coming new music ensembles, or revel in experimental theater, perhaps they too have far-reaching memories of witnessingThe Nutcracker during a long-past holiday season.
It’s a beautiful thing to consider, this idea that once a year, we have a completely organic opportunity to expose our children, nieces, nephews, grandkids, students, etcetera to live-performance storytelling through music and movement. And if it inspires a lifelong passion for the arts, all the better.
Of course, around here, we’re committed to the power of live performance all year long. We’re curious about artists and art makers from around the world, with different stories to tell and myriad means by which they tell them.
This hectic and celebratory time of year also is reflective. It also ’tis the season to look back at highlights that have dotted the calendar year.
There are many that spring immediately to mind for us here at CAP UCLA. Most of them involve moments in which the center has served as a bridge between our visiting artists, the work they have created, and our audiences.
Over just the last few months, we have gathered together to witness some truly incredible and compelling contemporary performance from masterful theater makers like Robert Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Mikhail Baryshnikov and the cast and crew of Basetrack. We encountered the creative force of Ryoji Ikeda, in a sound and visual performance that thundered and crackled through Royce Hall. We celebrated the creative vision of the one-and-only Andy Warhol, through the creative vision of a cadre of truly eclectic modern musicians. We dove into the history of the graphic novel through the wit and wisdom of Art Speigelman and music of Philip Johnston. We honored a major milestone for one of the most revered dance companies in the world—Batsheva.
For each of these performances, you not only joined us to witness the art itself, but you involved yourself with us, you leaned forward to help make art in a graphic novel workshop. You lent your faces to our tribute to Andy Warhol screen tests. You attended gaga workshops and a special performance from local dance company Ate9 in honor of Batsheva. You contributed to our first fundraiser of the season and mingled with the stars of The Old Woman. You told us stories about what freedom and service means to you, and helped us honor those who have served. You gathered eagerly to hear Ryoji speak about his enigmatic work in a rare post-show discussion. You joined us last spring for our Poetry Bureau before performances of The Suit and experienced art-making up close and on-the-fly. You brought your instruments and picked your brains out on the Royce Terrace before our first performance of the season.
These moments of connection are as powerful as the performance itself, because they invite us to recall and consider that we are a community. We’re not just a loosely organized gathering of people who happen to have the same taste in art. We are so much more.
And, when we bring ourselves together with that sensibility in mind, we are actively moving our culture forward. No experience in the world of art is really passive, even just sitting in the audience is an activation of an idea, a participation in the process. Every time you bring yourself to a performance, whether it’s an annual holiday attendance at any of the multiple Nutcracker productions available this time of year, or dancing in the aisles of Royce Hall to our recent presentation of New Orleans great Dr. John and the Nite Trippers, you bring something unique to the moment.
We talk a lot about how the people who are on hand and on site to experience the art of performance become the keepers of it. We are the holders of the memories and the emotions that bring about further curiosity, more ideas, and more possibilities of making things that resonate.
Early in 2014 Mike Daisey joined us with a piece entitled American Utopias. He talked about several places and ways in which our culture has collectively subscribed to a certain idea, a certain way of being in the world, about how humans might just have the power to build up the world we want to live in.
He ended his performance by asking the audience to join him on the front steps of Royce Hall. It was chilly and drizzling, much like it is today. He exhorted us to dream, to create, to witness and experience.
And that is our hope for this holiday season. The greatest gift we can possibly share is our continued endeavor to build a space for artists and art lovers to dream, create, witness and experience.
Thank you for dreaming with us. There’s much more to come in the New Year.
Have a safe, happy and art-filled season!