REVELS AND THE NATURAL WORLD
More than any of our previous 32 Christmas Revels productions, this year's celebration of the Winter Solstice invites all participants to think more deeply about their own relationship, and ultimately all humanity's relationship, with the natural world.
Revels and the natural world are hardly strangers. Most of our 32 Christmas Revels productions have been situated in places and times where people interacted daily and closely with the natural world. Our May Revels celebrates the greening and flowering of the earth in Spring after the long "death" of Winter. Our after-school workshops explore how people down through the ages have dealt with the seasons in music, dance and stories. In many respects one might say that the natural world, and humanity's relationship to it, lie at the very core of Revels.
This year's show, however, looks at that relationship differently than most. Most Christmas Revels productions explore the Winter Solstice traditions of a particular culture or several related cultures - sometimes as many as five or six as in our Nordic and Roma (Gypsy) shows. This show does not focus on any particular culture(s). Its time is loosely "medieval," a period that covers over 700 years, and the place is ambiguous - it might be England, but it could be somewhere else in Europe.
Time and place are not as relevant because this show is not rooted in a particular historical event or period - in contrast, for example, to last year's context of Ireland's Great Famine and the accompanying Irish emigration to America. This year's costumes cover a range of approximately 150 years, from about 1250 to 1400, when clothing styles were largely similar over much of northern Europe. The music is mostly medieval, but not necessarily from a single country or region.
Instead, the direct context of this show is mankind and its relationship to the natural world. It starts with the set: we do not find ourselves inside the protection of castle walls; this is a partial castle, either in the process of construction or perhaps the deconstruction of time and age - we never know for sure. The surrounding forest is intertwined with it.
The forest inhabitants are intertwined as well. The Woodland Queen and her court have been invited to attend the King's celebration of a good year marked by a bountiful harvest and peace in the kingdom. The royals and townfolk are not certain what to make of these guests, who neither look nor act like them. There is a hint of supernatural or at least special powers or attributes of some sort.
At the very least, they manifest a deeper integration with the surrounding natural world. This is evident partly in their dress and masks, but also in their responses to events. When the uninvited and mysterious guest of winter appears, the royals and villagers draw back, while the woodland people appear to recognize, welcome and even honor him. When the King confronts and attempts to repel the stranger, and is vanquished, the King's subjects are in disarray - they have never seen him defeated. The woodland folk appear to accept as inevitable that no man can hope to vanquish the forces of nature.
When the King ultimately emerges from his ordeal, we see him visibly transformed (I won't give away how), and, in concert with the Queen, reconciled to a more holistic relationship with nature. So transformed, we sense that this newly fashioned King is less likely to try to bend nature to his will in the future.
This particular show, we say, "straddles the majestic and mythical realms." As so often with myth, the mythical elements are symbolic. Revels doesn't preach, and the show is fun, festive and colorful, with lots of audience participation - features common to all Christmas Revels productions. Yet the message within remains.