If you still haven't managed to fit a viewing of "The Nutcracker" into your holiday schedule, you've got at least six more chances before the day is out. That's how many interpretations of the holiday classic will pirouette, gyrate and prance across the stage during a six-hour festival at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
"The Nutcracker" in many incarnations--ranging from jazz, rhythm tap and classical interpretations by local groups to a performance by the Moscow Classical Ballet--will be on display throughout the day at the 39th annual Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration. More than 1,000 artists and 36 groups will perform, beginning at 3 p.m.
By design, the show has always been free. "It's the county's gift to the community," says Laura Zucker, executive director of the L.A. County Arts Commission, who is producing the show for the sixth year. The gift includes performances by 18 groups that are joining the festival for the first time.
"We try to bring back the people we felt were strongest, and some of those even get rotated out," she says. "We're really looking for something that captures the holiday spirit."
Though the program is traditionally heavy on choral music, it also features more dance than ever, 11 companies in all, Zucker says. The show is set up in two-hour blocks to allow for a natural turnover of the audience, since people tend to come and go in two-hour increments. Generally, 6,000 to 8,000 people attend, she says.
Since families tend to come at the beginning of the show, the first two hours are filled with children's choirs and presentations that kids can relate to, including three of this year's "Nutcrackers." "Chocolate Nutcracker" will feature choreography and dancing by Debbie Allen; Long Beach Ballet Theatre teenagers will perform the ballet's snow scene; and the theater group We Tell Stories will present "The Hardest Nut to Crack: The Story the Ballet Doesn't Tell."
Some of the performances Zucker is excited about include Winifred Harris' Between Lines, which she considers "one of the best dance companies in L.A."; the Gay Men's Chorus, which is "always fabulous"; and the Clara Ward Singers, the gospel group whose leader was recently featured on a U.S. postage stamp. The Bobby Rodriguez Latin Jazz Band, which gave a rousing performance last year, is scheduled to close this year's show.
Because the audience fluctuates, festival-goers sometimes must wait in line to get a seat in the theater, which holds 3,600. The waiting line is entertained by several choirs and instrumental quartets, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus also hold court in the lobby.
One performing group that will make a return visit to the lobby consists of a dozen Music Center ushers, who decided last year that if "every choir in the world" could perform at the celebration, so could they, Zucker says.
On the main stage, it's not all Christmas carols and red and green apparel. Last year's Hanukkah segment was the highest-rated hour of the television show, which is broadcast simultaneously on KCET-TV, Zucker says. This year's 45-minute segment will start about 5:30 p.m. and feature jazz arrangements of Hanukkah pieces, the Brandeis Bardin Klezmer Ensemble and the University of Judaism Concert Singers.
Joyce Campbell, executive producer of the holiday show for KCET, considers the telecast of the celebration "a unique event" because the marathon arts broadcast isn't a telethon and has no camera rehearsal beforehand. "I'm very proud of the way it looks and sounds," says Campbell, who has worked on the show for three years. "It's fun to watch because it's live television, and there's always a moment or two where you can tell."
The number of onstage surprises has gone down, Zucker says, since program rehearsals for the groups were established a few years ago. "Still, it's not soup till that day. It's a fascinating experience to see all of the individual pieces but have no idea what the total flow will be," she says.
"The highlight of the first day of rehearsal was just seeing the ballerinas walk past the mariachis," Campbell says. "My production staff was struck by how wonderful it was. It made me think about how the world's cultures are connected."
Getting the acts on stage at the right time is the job of Chris Christel, production director for the Music Center's operating company, who is helping stage his 10th show. Though it would be a stretch to directly compare the show to the Academy Awards, he says, both are very technical productions that are broadcast live. The Academy Awards has about two weeks to set up, while the celebration's organizers have less than two days.
For Campbell, one of the biggest challenges is putting together a television crew that is willing to work Christmas Eve. "At first, they think they are giving up their own holiday," she says. "But they end up joining a celebration of a larger family."
The Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration is today from 3 to 9 p.m. at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., downtown L.A. Free. Parking free in Music Center garage. A live broadcast will air on KCET-TV and be simulcast on KPFK-FM (90.7). The last two hours of the show will be rebroadcast Christmas Day from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Call (213) 974-1396 for detailed program information.