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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


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