SARATOGA SPRINGS – A Christmas rarity will be coming to the Universal Preservation Hall this Sunday as the Nacre Dance Group performs The Christmas Oratorio.
Created in 1961 by choreographer Charles Weidman, the modern dance production uses the music of Johann Sebastian Bach to illustrate the Christmas story and nativity scene.
“As a dancer, I love it — it’s glorious,” said Beth Fecteau, the artistic director for the Nacre Dance Group and a dancer herself. “As an audience member, you are experiencing something so beautiful and rich.”
But, though a compelling and stunning dance, The Christmas Oratorio is much more than a standard holiday performance. Weidman was one of the pioneers of American modern dance and created works like The Christmas Oratorio to rebel against the traditional ballet form and foster a new style of movement. It is a history that is central to the Nacre Dance Group’s operation.
“Our mission at Nacre Dance Group is to present classic dance pieces as well as honor the choreographers of today,” said Fecteau. “That’s why we show these past works, which lay the pathway for the new works that you see in modern dance.”
The production primarily utilizes a group ensemble, but the second act features two major solos of characters Mankind and Echo Air, performed by Danielle Selby and Erin Calhoun, respectively. Mankind represents the common struggles of today, while Echo Air acts as an angel that “greets hope and life into Mankind,” according to Fecteau.
“Those two solos, in particular, I think, everyone can really relate to,” said Selby, who has been dancing in The Christmas Oratorio for over a decade. “Everyone has gone through dark phases and hard times in their life and knowing that there’s always that light on the other side, you just have to push through it.”
Aside from its depth and history, what makes this performance of The Christmas Oratorio even more special is its rarity.
“We are one of the very few companies in the world to present it,” said Fecteau. “I think we are very honored to preserve this work and Charles Weidman’s legacy.”
The Nacre Dance Group will also be presenting “The Nutcracker” later in the month, giving the public the opportunity to see two very different, though equally significant, dance pieces.
“What makes this really special for us this season is that we are presenting a class work and a non-classic,” said Fecteau, also noting that it can be a bit more difficult to get an audience for The Christmas Oratorio. “They are both classics in their own right, one is just more popular.”
Overall, the Nacre Dance Group hopes that the production will help bring a holiday spirit to its audience and the Capital Region.
“They should expect to feel hope and joy and friendship by watching this story of the nativity come to life through movement,” said Fecteau.
“It’s a lot of joy and community, about coming together,” Calhoun added. “We come together so much this time of year, whether it’s our holiday parties or everyone waiting in line at Black Friday… and hopefully having joy in those moments.”
The Christmas Oratorio will be performed at the Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Additionally, “The Nutcracker” will be at The Egg in Albany on Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.