The stage of the Musical Arts Center sparkled silver and gold Saturday night. The set for the performance, a snow-topped forest, covered the wings and scarlet poinsettias lined the front of the stage. Gilded harps crowned with Santa hats shined under the lights as the audience, many dressed in holiday sweaters and nutcracker earrings, waited for the performance to begin.
IU Jacobs School of Music students and local performers presented the Jacobs Holiday Celebration Saturday night at the MAC. The performance, a holiday-themed variety-style show, showcased a wide variety of music and dance-based talent.
Sylvia McNair, a Grammy Award-winning singer and IU alumna, hosted and performed during the show. Interim dean of the Jacobs School of Music Jeremy Allen, McNair and Holiday Celebration artistic director Brent Wallarab organized the event.
“It’s a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle,” McNair said. “Jeremy put the frame together, and Brent and I started working on putting the inner pieces together.”
This is the fourth year the Jacobs Holiday Celebration was presented. Originally premiering in 2009, the then-informal production took place in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center. Following its success, the show was repeated in 2011.
During the years where the school did not do a Holiday Celebration performance, McNair said people asked her when it would come back. Jacobs Holiday Celebration was brought back in 2019, but a performance in 2020 was not considered due to the pandemic.
Halfway through the first act, a guitar ensemble came on. At one point in the performance, the ensemble paused as director Daniel Duarte raised his hands. The tempo picked up as the group launched into the faster-paced “Mele Kalikimaka,” a Hawaiian Christmas song.
The guitar ensemble is made up of 12 guitars with other accompanying instruments. Themed around the idea of Christmas around the world, the ensemble’s arrangement brought together pieces from Hawaii, Catalonia, Austria and Ukraine.
“People see ukuleles, and they just think, ‘Oh, now I’m happy,’” Duarte said.
This also gives the guitar students opportunities to practice and perform with different types of guitars, Duarte said.
The last segment of the Holiday Celebration featured Duke Ellington’s interpretation of “The Nutcracker Suite.” The suite is a jazz interpretation of several of the divertissements, or short dances within the larger “Nutcracker” ballet. IU ballet dancers performed pieces from the suite.
Elaina da Fonte, an IU junior studying ballet and international studies, performed in multiple divertissements. She said working on this piece was different from the more traditional version of “The Nutcracker” because of the number of people onstage.
“It’s a lot more interacting with each other onstage and a playfulness to it that you can really only grasp when there are multiple people dancing in that part,” da Fonte said.
The jazz style of “The Nutcracker Suite” was a change of pace from the classical music and choreography of “The Nutcracker,” da Fonte said. She said there were some places where the jazz choreography leaned on the ballet choreography, but in the pieces she was in, the similarity was most noticeable in the way she had to carry herself.
The rehearsal process was crazy, da Fonte said, because it began while they were still rehearsing for IU ballet’s “The Nutcracker.” Rehearsals took place at the end of the regular ballet day after “The Nutcracker” rehearsals and on the weekends.
“There will be a lot of improvisational elements that will probably take us by surprise,” da Fonte said. “Honestly, I think it’ll just keep us on our toes a bit more.”