History

John Langstaff
John Langstaff

In December of 1994, in the Mago Hunt Theatre at the University of Portland, a newly-minted “Rose City Revels” boldly put on a “sampler” show of songs and dances from the original Christmas Revels. This rousing, ambitious test of local interest featured John Langstaff, founder of The Christmas Revels in Cambridge, the Bridgetown Morris Men, the Rose City Gay Freedom Band, an enthusiastic group of barely-rehearsed-enough children, and a wonderful, if small, chorus of ready singers under the direction of Russ Oelheim. The set was a stage full of Christmas trees, borrowed and begged from local tree lots.

A small crowd of 200 loved it, sang along, and danced all over the theater with the cast-the first “Lord of the Dance” in Portland! It was an auspicious start, full of enthusiasm and ready talent. The following year, 1995, at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall, the first fully-staged Christmas Revels drew 1,500 people to five performances. Since then, Portland Revels has grown a lot; in 2015 the Christmas Revels was performed 9 times for over 5000 patrons.

 A Christmas Revels Historical Timeline:

1995: A Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Richard Lewis, Directed by Gayle Behrman Jaster, Music Director: Robert Luoma, Artistic Director: John Langstaff, Children’s Director: Molly Beiningen.

1996: A Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Richard Lewis, Directed by Pamela Livingstone, Choral Director: Tony Bump, Instrumental Director: Ronald Babcock, Children’s Director: Molly Beiningen.

1997: A Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Co-Producers: Richard Lewis and Katie Sokoloff, Directed by Pam Livingstone , Music Director: Karl Mansfield, Children’s Director: Molly Beiningen. Guest artists The Karelian Folk Music Ensemble and the Karin Brennesvik Dance Troupe.

1998: A Celtic Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Richard Lewis, Directed by Pamela Livingstone, Music Director: Karl Mansfield, Children’s Director: Molly Beiningen. Guest artists The Karelian Folk Music Ensemble and the Karin Brennesvik Dance Troupe.

Rev06French1999: A French Medieval Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Richard Lewis, Directed by Pamela Livingstone, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Director: Molly Beiningen.

2000: A Victorian Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Richard Lewis, Directed by Stepan Simek, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs.

2001: The Celestial Fools: A Medieval Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Richard Lewis, Directed by John Anderberg, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs.

2002: The King and the Fool: Producing Director: Kate Sokoloff, Directed by Stepan Simek, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs

2003: An Italian Renaissance Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Stepan Simek, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs

2004: An Elizabethan Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Gray Eubank, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs

2005: A Scottish Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Gray Eubank, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs

2006: A French Medieval Celebration of the Winter Solstice: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Diane Englert, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Steve Moebs

2007: An English Celebration of the Winter Solstice:  Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Gray Eubank, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Hillarie McKenna

2008: A Visit to the Scandinavian Northlands: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Gray Eubank, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Hillarie McKenna

2009: An Irish Mummers Village Celebration:  Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Meg Chamberlain, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Hillarie McKenna. Guest Artist: Kevin Burke

2010: Spanish Treasure: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Gray Eubank, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Hillarie McKenna, Guest Artists: Al-Andalus Ensemble with Tarik and Julia Banzi

2011: The King and the Fool:  Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Muisc Director: Hillarie McKenna

2012: An Appalachian Christmas Celebration:  Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Hillarie McKenna, Guest Artist: Suzannah Park, Actor: Ithica Tell.

2013: Christmas in Old Europe: Produced by Deborah Garman, Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Children’s Music Director: Hillarie Hunt, Guest Artist: Eric Stern, Actor: Ithica Tell.

2014: Keep Magic: Produced and Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Associate Music Director: Betsy Branch, Children’s Music Director: Regina Pirruccello, Guest Artist: Tobias Anderson

2015: Celtic Crossing: Produced and Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Associate Music Director: Betsy Branch, Children’s Music Director: Regina Pirruccello, Guest Artists: Maldon Meehan, Kevin Carr, Dan Compton.

2016: Commedia Italiana: Produced and Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Associate Music Director: Betsy Branch, Children’s Music Director: Regina Pirruccello, Guest Artists: Jeb Berrier, Michale O’Neill. Sara Fay Goldman, Noah Fassell, Jack Wells, Murren Kennedy, Katie Palka, Alexander Wilde, Laura Kuhlman and Hideki Yamaya

2017: Nordic Lights: Produced and Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Associate Music Director: Betsy Branch, Children’s Music Director: Regina Pirruccello, Guest Artists: Dan Compton, Amy Hakanson, Peter Michaelson, Kim Majors, Bronwyn Jones and Burl Ross

2018: Highland Voyage: Produced and Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Associate Music Director: Betsy Branch, Children’s Music Director: Regina Pirruccello, Guest Artists: Jeb Berrier, Kevin Carr, Allison Menzimer, Summer Olsson, Chase Garber, Owen Hoffman-Smith and Elias Alexander

2019: Ghosts of Haddon Hall: Produced and Directed by Bruce Hostetler, Music Director: Robert Lockwood, Associate Music Director: Betsy Branch, Children’s Music Director: Regina Pirruccello, Guest Artists: Gayle Stuwe Neuman, Phil Neuman, Laura Kuhlman, and Esther Saulle, Written by Grey Eubank. Actors: Burl Ross, Matthew D. Pavik, Mike Dederian, Margo Schembre, Dash Fitzgerald Hartman, and Beatrice Danforth


Traditions

Portland Revels events are steeped in seasonal traditions. We present these traditions through song, dance, poetry and performance. Here are some of the most popular traditions and where they came from.

The mummers play from Revels 2004 French Medieval show
The mummers play from Revels 2004 French Medieval show

Mumming

Every Christmas Revels performance includes a mummer’s play. This traditional enactment of death and rebirth finds its roots in primitive ceremonies held throughout Europe to mark important stages in the agricultural year. In a traditional mummer’s play a character is killed and is then resurrected (usually by a quack doctor). In the Christmas Revels, the play is representative of the character’s hope to “drive the dark away” and celebrate the Winter Solstice “the shortest day,” and the beginning of longer days and springtime rebirth to come.

Each Christmas Revels mummer’s play is based in part on the show’s theme. For example, in our 2013 Christmas in Old Europe, the mummer’s play was performed by four Bulgarian Kukeri. For more on mumming:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mummers_play

Abbots Bromley Horn Dance

Abbots Bromley Book

One part of many winter Revels performances that captures the mystery of mid-winter celebration is the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, an age-old procession of 10 to 12 figures, six men carry sets of caribou horns, followed by a hobby horse, Maid Marian (usually a man dressed as a woman), a boy with a bow and arrow, and a fool who periodically dings a small triangle, The Revels dance choreography was inspired by an all-day procession still done each September in the tiny town of Abbots Bromley in Staffordshire, England. The dance is serpentine and includes a figure in which lines of five dancers each approach and retire and cross and repeat, with some clashing of the horns.

History of the horns: The horns in Abbots Bromley, which for the rest of the year hang on the walls of the local church, have been carbon dated to 1065. At least one historian of the dance has identified them with an 11th century monk named Wulfric, counselor to King Ethelred and founder of a Benedictine Abbey on whose land the village was founded in 1004. He speculates that the horns were from caribou brought in by Vikings, possibly those against whom Wulfric defended Mercia in 1010.Horn Dance

The dance was adapted to the Christmas Revels by John Langstaff and is done in Revels fashion to a haunting tune first notated in the 1850′s by an Abbots Bromley resident, William Robinson who said it was old in his time. Its appeal is the appeal of ancient ritual: it cannot be explained, only experienced, with no ready understanding of the figures or the movements except a sense that it has to do with hunting and takes us back to a time when, in a rural setting where hunting was crucial to survival, some even more ancient invocation to the hunt’s victim was practiced — every winter, and always in the same way.

Lord of the Dance and Morris Dancing

At the conclusion of the first part of every Christmas Revels, the chorus and audience join in a serpentine song and dance, based on Sidney Carter’s song, “Lord of the Dance,” an adaptation of the Shaker song, “‘Tis a Gift To Be Simple.”

The song and dance is a brief experience of shared celebration and is, for many, the community high point of the show. Since Morris dancing has long been centrally connected to celebrations of the return of spring, this joining of audience and chorus is introduced by a unique Morris dance choreographed by Carol Langstaff in Cambridge in 1971 for the first Christmas Revels. The dance features steps taken from five village Morris traditions. They are danced by two dancers at stage center until the song ends and dancers and chorus members dance with the audience around the theater.

Portland Revels presents The Christmas Revels 2010, Spanish TreasureMorris dancing, which can be traced back to the mid-15th century, is a festive dance form, sporting bells and ribbons, long associated with towns and villages in the south Midlands of England. Its origins may lie on the European continent and until the mid-16th century, it seems to have been mostly an entertainment at court or among the gentry.

In towns and villages throughout the southwest region of England men formed teams of six dancers, plus a fool, hobby horse, and someone to collect the money, got a musician and during the spring and summer performed a set of dances unique to their village. It was a colorful, often rowdy kind of street theater, costumed and spirited, usually emphasizing fertility and the good luck of the Morris. Revived in the late 19th century after a period of decline, it has become again a widespread part of English culture and has spread to many other countries, including America, Canada, Australia, and even Hong Kong. Historically danced mostly by men, Morris is now danced by men’s teams, women’s teams, and mixed teams.

More about Morris Dancing: http://www.bridgetownmorrismen.com/

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