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Spotlight on Carols in Color – A Regional Dance Tradtition


by Roger Lee for The Dance Journal

Since 1992, Eleone Dance Theatre has been presenting its regional holiday classic Carols in Color. The high-spirited production fuses African American dance traditions and gospel music with the St. Matthew’s retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ. This urbanized alternative to The Nutcracker makes a great holiday gift for the entire family.

Eleone founder, E. Leon Evans grew tired of seeing The Nutcracker each holiday season. The creative Renaissance man dreamed of having a holiday classic that celebrated African American culture right in his hometown of Philadelphia, PA. Thus, Carols in Color was born in 1992. The debut was held at The Painted Bride, featured 20 talented dancers and vocalists from the city, and an original script, musical arrangement, and choreography by Evans himself. The memorable debut also featured a packed, engaged audience that is still faithful to this day.

After Evan’s passing in 1998, Shawn-Lamere Williams assumed the role of Artistic Director. He expanded the cast and added new choreography to modernize Carols in Color. “We always stay true to Mr. Evans’ vision, keeping it at the foundation and source of inspiration for our work each year,” says Williams. As artistic director of Carols in Color, Williams works to maintain a delicate balance between tradition and innovation. “Mr. Evans sowed the seed and we watered it,” he adds.

Williams makes additions to the concert each year by bringing in established vocalists and guest dance artists from popular, neighboring companies such as Philadanco. Williams’ artistic additions coupled with Evans’ distinct vision has turned Carols in Color into a renowned, 20-year-old holiday tradition that is performed in 600-seat theater venues by approximately 90 performers. In a Philadelphia Inquirer article, writer Miriam Seidel proclaims, “Carols in Color has become a Regional holiday tradition, and it’s hard to imagine a more rousing and uplifting one.”

In today’s economic climate, having a religious-themed dance musical production last for 20 years is an outstanding accomplishment and a true blessing. Although the beautifully trained dancers, soul-stirring vocalists, and vibrant costumes keep the audience on their feet, it is the audience’s experience that keeps them coming back for more.

Just what kind of experience can audiences expect when attending Carols in Color?

They can expect the same experience found in many African American churches across the country. That experience entails clapping, stomping, shouting, dancing, and singing along to the gospel-inspired production. The audience can also expect to be acknowledged, thanked for their attendance, and invited into the Eleone Dance Theatre family. This goes a long way with supportive audiences that have stood by this production for the past two decades. Simply put, the Carols in Color audience return each year to be inspired, entertained, and uplifted through guaranteed live gospel music, praise dance, and the retelling of the birth of Jesus Christ. Carols in Color provides a church-going experience for people of all backgrounds and faiths in the comfort of a traditional theater venue. According to Williams, “When our audiences are leaving in a great mood, happy and smiling, we know that we have dance our job well!”

Eleone Dance Theatre presents Carols in Color
Saturday, December 15, 2012 at 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 3:00 pm and 7:00 pm
Monday, December 17, 2012 at 11:00 am (School Matinee)
The Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts at The William Penn Charter School, 3000 West School House Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19144
Tickets: $30 for General Admission, $27 Senior Citizens, Students, and Children
Dancers: Eleone Dance Theatre, Eleone Connections, and Eleone Dance Incorporated


- Steven Weisz

Founder & Editor
While not a dancer himself, Weisz’s love for the arts and dance started as a child growing up in New York City. With parents, who were strong supporters of the arts and part of a community with an incredible array of notable artists in music, dance, theater and fine arts, Weisz’s access and affinity for the performing arts took root. Upon attending college in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania in the mid 70’s, Weisz started performing as a puppeteer, magician, juggler and fire eater as a means of supplementing his income. This soon grew in to what became Rainbow Promotions Inc., one of the largest entertainment and special events producers in the region. It was here that he began to promote and book dance for major events throughout the city. Many of the dancers he worked with in the early days of his company are now major choreographers in Philadelphia. At the same time, Weisz’s interest in computers and the early developments of what is now known as the Internet, led him to also start another company, Delaware Valley On Line, which became one of the first regional ISPs. It was this combination of event production, internet development and event marketing that led him to examine the use of the internet as a means to promote the arts. Dance continued to be a major interest for Weisz and in 2005 he founded PhiladelphiaDANCE.org as a major online resource to promote dance in the city. It was soon after that the Dance Journal was also founded as a way to provide an outlet for writing on a range of topics that encompass the ever growing and emerging dance community in the region. Weisz continues to run both PhiladelphiaDANCE and The Dance Journal on purely a voluntary basis with no income derived from any of his projects. He is also the Artistic Director of Graffito Works, a unique platform for dancers and performing artists to create site-specific work and to make it readily accessible to the public.

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