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Preparing for Los Angeles' Biggest Holiday Show, the 50th Anniversary Holiday Celebration

By Ed Fuentes
Published: Monday, December 07, 2009, at 09:06PM
IMGP0444 Ed Fuentes

Holiday Celebration producers and directors listen to the Burbank Chorale during run-throughs for the 2009 Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration.

Assembling up to 1,500 performers and over 40 acts for the Music Center's six-hour Christmas Eve concert is no holiday. Add to that the challenge of having singers, dancers and musicians scattered all over the Southland and just two days for run-throughs, and you positively marvel that it comes together.

Somehow, though, it does, and 2009 will be the 50th time that Los Angeles County has assembled choirs, orchestras and dance companies for its Holiday Celebration.

The event began in 1960 as "The Christmas Program," taking place at the Sports Arena in Exposition Park.

It moved to the Music Center when the facility opened in 1964. In fact,County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn, who represented the 2nd District from 1952 to 1992, led fundraising for the facility only on the condition that it be open to the public, for free, at least one day each year.

This year, Holiday Celebration uses the theme "It's Your Turn. In addition to the live feed on KCET -- a feature since 1965 -- the show is also being streamed on, where a twitter feed will be shown as a ticker below the webcast.

Audience members waiting to get in to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion -- seating is constant flow of people coming in and out -- can opt to stay in the courtyard where a JumboTron will show the concert. There they can join in scheduled sing-a-alongs.

Pulling the show together is more than a Holiday miracle, and the rehearsals are no-nonsense Saturday and Sunday afternoons. As repeat participants, the Burbank Chorale wait their turn at the artists entrance of the Dorothy Chandler on Saturday. They are ushered to one of two rehearsals rooms on the 4th floor and sang under the direction of Mikhail Shtangrud.

Nearby, Holiday Celebration producers Laura Zucker and Adam Davis share notes with each other. "Good selection," adds Zucker, taking a look at formal wear two singers donned, an example of what the rest will wear on stage Christmas Eve.

Shtangrud will also guide the The Colburn Children's Chorus, also regulars to the Holiday Celebration. Even that doesn't guarantee a spot, he said, as each group sends in an application each summer to appear, listing what new song or dance will be in the set.

A good choice can lead to more than just Los Angeles exposure. Since 2002, PBS has edited down one hour of highlights from the show for national distribution.

Broadcast director and co-producer Kenneth Shapiro watches the rehearsal through a camera. It's the only time he will see the performers before Christmas Eve. "From this, we can makes choices in camera angles and backdrops," says Shapiro, an award show and concert vet, adding that they plan to have this years hosts interact with the live audience.

The producers then move to a second rehearsal hall, where Sharanya Mukhopadhyay, a leading solo artist in the traditions of Odissi dancing, goes through her Indian folk dance with a full dramatic emotion depth. After her dance, Zucker gently asks Sharanya if she wants to stay in her final freeze and have the lights dim, or take a bow. The young dancer, barely out of breath, chooses to hold the position.

The program's selections are varied. There's a funk-hip-hop version of a scene from "The Nutcracker," plus hip-hop English and Korean holiday songs from the Opera California Youth Choir.

Cultural diversity becomes an experiment with style and form, and traditions are shown as influencing each other, be it Yiddish music with soul or twitter feeds on a streaming live broadcast of Ave Marie by Mariachis.

In many ways, the last 50 years of a simple idea––behind a complex program––shows not only how a city has evolved, but takes a lead on how a broader culture develops.

Los Angeles County Holiday Celebration 2009 / Thursday, December 24, 2009 from 3pm to 9pm / Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center (135 N. Grand Ave) / Free / Parking: Free in the Music Center parking garage / Doors open at 2:30, but people start lining up much earlier. Patrons may come and go throughout the performance


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