Celebrating the holidays

BY DI STAFF | DECEMBER 03, 2009 7:30 AM

Charlie Anderson/The Daily Iowan
Blake Boseneiler rehearses for her part as Clara in The Nutcracker at the Englert Theatre on Tuesday.
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Beautiful, unkempt music

Balancing the tasks of being a performer and a mother can be difficult for Natalie MacMaster. Yet, she manages to be both a world-class fiddler and a mother of three.

“It’s really hard,” she said. “It’s something that I’m always trying to find a proper balance. My children are my priority. To define what priority means is what I’m searching for.”

She manages the balance by not traveling so much. The two-time Grammy nominee decreased the number of her performances in order to remain home with her children, ages 4, 2, and 9 months.

MacMaster will play both mother and performer when she performs the show Christmas in Cape Breton at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. The holiday-theme show will take place at Riverside Casino and Golf Resort, 3184 Highway 22, in Riverside. Ticket prices range from $10 to $45. The show will consist of Celtic fiddling, step dancing, and guest performers.

Music has always been a part of MacMaster’s family. She grew up in a musical culture and family, and she has been playing the fiddle since she was 9, when a relative gave her the instrument. She has a degree in education but said she will never teach — she’s involved with the fiddle.

“For me, playing fiddle is truly as much a part of me as my accent,” the 37-year-old said. “It’s something I don’t even think about.”

Step dancing is also a part of MacMaster’s show. She said she never took step dancing as seriously as the fiddle and called it something “that everyone could do in Cape Breton.”

She draws a lot of her inspiration from her home of Cape Breton, an island off the east coast of Canada that is part of Nova Scotia. She described it as “incredibly beautiful, rustic, and unkempt.”

“The music in Cape Breton is very unrefined as well,” she said. “The power of the music and the land comes from the natural beauty of it. It’s a real strong force, very rhythmical but also very modern, and it comes across. It’s a hand-me-down tradition.”

Hancher programming director Jacob Yarrow said he is excited about her performance.

“She is energetic and an exceptional performer,” he said. “She is a real master of Celtic fiddling style.”

— by Sarah Larson

Nutcracker returns for holidays

’Tis the season for the curtain to rise for one of the most famous Christmas traditions — The Nutcracker.

The timeless holiday tale comes to life with professional dancers and local children from Nolte Academy of Dance and other studios. The Nutcracker will begin its three-day run at the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington, at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Saturday performances will be at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and the Dec. 6 performance is at 2 p.m. Admission ranges from $16 to $22.

The Nutcracker is a unique and entertaining Christmas classic, and one of the most popular ballets in Western countries. It is based on the story of “The Nutcracker and the King of Mice,” written by E.T.A. Hoffman.

The story follows the journey of Clara Stahlbaum as she receives the gift of a Nutcracker — a soldier-type doll — from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. While wandering her house, at the stroke of midnight, Clara hears the sound of mice. The Nutcracker comes to life to help Clara defeat the fierce Mouse King.

After the victory, the Nutcracker transforms into a prince, and he and Clara enter a world of dancing snowflakes and fairies. While in the magical Land of Snow, the two arrive with delight to the Kingdom of Sweets — where the Sugar Plum Fairy and her people dance for Clara and the prince.

Clara then awakens from her dream to find herself with the Nutcracker by the Christmas tree.

The Nutcracker typically includes eight dance performances, including the Nutcracker March, the Sugar Plum Dance, and the Waltz of Flowers. The original music of the ballet was composed by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky in 1892. The Nolte Academy’s version being presented at the Englert will feature a live orchestra of local musicians, led by Carey Bostian.

— by Josie Jones

Holiday Harmony

Jefferson High School, Cedar Rapids, 1243 20th St. S.W., 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Grab a Santa hat, an ugly sweater, add more than 100 male voices, maybe throw in some eggnog, and get ready to celebrate.

On Saturday, the Eastern Iowa Barbershop Chorus will perform a free holiday concert at Jefferson High School, 1243 20th, Cedar Rapids titled “Holiday Harmony” at 7:30 p.m. Doors will open at 7 p.m., and admission is free.

The group pulls members from all over the eastern part of the state, including Iowa City, Muscatine, Waterloo, Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Davenport, Elkader, and New London. Each are part of chapters in the Barbershop Harmony Society and are nonprofit organizations, advertising that each member serves the “community with a song in [their] hearts.”

While performing holiday music a cappella, “Holiday Harmony” will try to create a family friendly environment, with the website guaranteeing “100 percent family fun.”

Audience members will also have the opportunity to join in the holiday fun and offer a donation of money or a new, unwrapped toy to the local Cedar Rapids area Toys for Tots, a institution that does its best to ensure every child gets visited by Santa this holiday season. Organizers list suggestions for toys on their website, ranging from books to dinosaurs.

Toys for Tots has distributed more than 20,000 toys to more than 2,700 children, the group reports. Beyond that, the group has provided more than 1,500 food boxes to families in need.

— by Eric Sundermann


6 p.m. Dec. 9, IMU Black Box Theatre

Kwanzaa is based on the Nguzo Saba, or the seven guiding principles, and one is celebrated each day of the holiday, from Dec. 26 through Jan. 4. Among these principles are “umoja,” or unity, which stresses the importance of community togetherness.

Enjoy an evening brimming with “umoja” at 6 p.m. Dec. 9 during a Kwanzaa celebration in the IMU Black Box Theatre.

Special guests include African-American folk storyteller Kunama Mtendaji and the Afi Ama Music and Dance Ensemble. The evening will showcase conga, djembe, dunun, and kutiro music, along with traditional African and Afro-Caribbean movements.

Though this is not the first year for a UI Kwanzaa celebration, an assistant director of Student Life, Katherine Betts said this is the largest-scale celebration yet.

Neither political nor a religious holiday, Kwanzaa is not a substitute for Christmas — it is rather a time for focusing on traditional African values of family, community, responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement.

Sponsored by a host of UI student and faculty groups, the Kwanzaa celebration encourages everyone to share in unique performances and authentic soul food. RSVP by Dec. 7 to dinette-myers@uiowa.edu.

— by Dee Fabbricatore

Festival of Carols

7 p.m. Dec. 17, The Englert, 221 E. Washington

Free cocoa and cookies, anyone?

In the season of giving, it’s hard to refuse free sweets and stories, and that’s just what the Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., will dish out this season.

After bad weather forced the Englert to cancel the event last year, there’s plenty on the docket for the Dec. 17 celebration. Among the highlights include performances from the MetroMix chorus, Iowa City Community Theatre, Catalyst Acting Company, and a reading of “The Night Before Christmas” by Roy Justis to the music of Dan Knight.

“It’s going to be a feel-good night the whole family will love,” said Englert CEO Sean Fredericks, “We have a great lineup of performers and plenty of singing, dancing, sing-alongs, and hot cocoa.”

The Festival of Carols will kick off at 7 p.m., and the audience can expect both new and traditional holiday songs, with a big sing-along at the end of the night. Joe Jennison, the executive director of the Iowa Cultural Corridor Alliance, will be the MC.

“A lot of families are looking for things to do together that don’t cost a lot of money,” Fredericks said. “Thanks to our sponsors … we’re able to put this on absolutely free.”

— by Dee Fabbricatore

A Christmas Carol

Dec. 11-13 and Dec. 17-19 (Thursday-Saturday 7:30 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m.), Iowa Children’s Museum, Coral Ridge Mall

After a trip to the movies to see this season’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol in 3D, catch a stage showing of the traditional Charles Dickens tale. After all, who doesn’t want to spend double the time with Scrooge and Tiny Tim?

Enjoy a live performance of the spirited classic at the Iowa Children’s Museum, in the Coral Ridge Mall, Dec. 11-13 and Dec. 17-19.

A Christmas Carol Radio Play captures the sounds of old-time radio theater and tells the tale of Ebeneezer Scrooge, who learns the true meaning of Christmas spirit when he is visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Performed by Coralville-based City Circle Acting Company and directed by Chris Okiishi, the play experiments with audio effects and re-creates the popular Christmas story.

Tickets are on sale at J. Frahm Music, 1841 Lower Muscatine Road, and the Coralville Recreation Center. Tickets are also available at the Children’s Museum theater box office 45 minutes before each performance. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for children and seniors.

— by Dee Fabbricatore

All wrapped up for Christmas

Today through Dec. 13, 1:30 p.m. Thursdays and Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, Iowa Theatre Artists Company, 4709 220th Trail, Amana

In the tiny town of Amana, only about 20 miles west of Iowa City, sits an old barn. Inside, 102 seats crowd together in front of an old stage. Inhabited by thespians, the venue beams to life as dancing and singing voices bounce off the walls.

This weekend and next, the Iowa Theatre Artists Company will continue its production of the musical All Wrapped Up for Christmas at 4709 220th Trail. Admission ranges from $10 to $20.

Described as a musical fairy tale for the holidays, All Wrapped Up for Christmas tells a story about a family that have come together at a breaking point.

Since opening the weekend before Thanksgiving, Meg Merckens, a cofounder of the Iowa Theatre Artists Company and coproducer of the musical, said she is extremely happy with the production, especially considering the musical is an original work of her husband, Tom Johnson.

“There’s been a terrific reaction,” she said. “Our first week of audience members didn’t know what they were getting into, but we loved the fact that people came out anyway.”

The cast of the show ranges from age 11 to 75, and everyone on stage plays an instrument. Merckens emphasizes the originality of the show because each person brings a different twist.

“It’s a holiday tale of the likes of which you’ll never see again,” she said. “Mainly, because the story is based on the 10 individual people in the show.”

Merckens points to theater as a great opportunity for parents to not only spend time with their kids but show them how fun the arts can be.

“It’s a wonderful chance to see something as a family,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of productions, but this is the first one that is totally family oriented.”

— by Eric Sundermann

A Christmas Past

Friday through Dec. 6, Various locations in West Branch

While Christmas is traditionally observed on one day, one local community will dedicate three days to the holiday.

The town of West Branch will begin its Christmas celebrations this weekend with its annual townwide A Christmas Past events.

A Christmas Past will begin Friday and will run through Dec. 6. The event has been going on for several years, said Rod Ness, the programming director for Main Street West Branch.

West Branch will kick off the festivities with a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which includes a performance by the West Branch High choir.

The tree lighting has not happened for the past couple of years, Ness said, because the live tree the town uses grew too big and the town did not have enough lights.

A visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Town Hall will coincide with the tree lighting. They will return the next day as well.

There will also be several kid’s craft opportunities available, as well as readings of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas at Ye Old Main Street Sweets at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

“We try to make it a low-cost, family-friendly environment,” Ness said.

In addition to the tree lighting and visits by Santa, several area businesses, churches, and government organizations will open their doors to the public for food, crafts, and performances.

The happenings will also include horse-drawn carriage rides sponsored by the National Park Service. Old-fashioned open fireplaces located on the sidewalks will allow passersby to roast marshmallows.

“The Boy Scouts make doughnuts over an open fire that are mighty tasty,” Ness said.

The Hoover Library Museum’s Holidays with the Hoovers exhibit, which will run through Jan. 3, showcases different Christmas trees; it will be open from 5 to 8 p.m. on the Friday and Saturday of A Christmas Past.

— by Tommy Morgan Jr.

Campus Activities Board Shopping

Buses depart IMU at noon and 1:15 p.m., Tanger Outlet Center, Williamsburg

As holiday shopping — and end-of-semester projects and tests — reaches a fever pitch, it can be difficult to get all of one’s shopping done in time.

The Campus Activities Board hopes to at least alleviate the stress of the holidays by providing a shopping trip to the Tanger Outlet Center in Williamsburg on Saturday. Tickets for the trip can be purchased for $5 or by bringing an item for a donation to a charitable organization. Organizers have not yet determined which organization that will be.

The board will offer free transportation from the IMU to the outlet stores and back for students who signed up at Burge, Mayflower, or Hillcrest. The group will offer sign-up opportunities today at Burge from noon to 2 p.m., and Burge and Mayflower on Friday from 5-7 p.m.

Those who are unable to sign up for the trip at the dorms can do so the day of the trip by arriving at the IMU early.

Students will have the opportunity to shop at stores such as the Nike Factory Store, Calvin Klein, and Brooks Brothers, none of which can be found in the Iowa City/Coralville area.

Participants will receive a coupon book for the outlet center in addition to transportation.

Buses will depart from the IMU on Saturday at noon and 1:15 p.m.; they will return from Williamsburg at 5 and 6:15 p.m.

The shopping trip is sponsored by the Campus Activities Board Roads Committee, which started this semester. This is its first shopping trip, though the group did sponsor a trip to Six Flags in October.

— by Tommy Morgan Jr.

Winter Wonderland

10 p.m. Dec. 11, IMU Main Lounge

Not every student celebrates Christmas, but even fewer celebrate winter.

With Winter Wonderland, the Campus Activities Board will seek to change the view on winter with a celebration of all the best parts of the season. The event will be held at 10 p.m. Dec. 11 in the IMU Main Lounge.

“I think we can all agree that winter in Iowa is usually nothing to celebrate about,” Kelsey Dallas, the board’s Night Hawks director, wrote in an e-mail. “We wanted to put together a night that draws on the fun stuff we all did as kids that gets forgotten about as we get older.”

Winter Wonderland will include crafts, games, and plenty of hot chocolate.

“[It] is essentially a celebration of all the best parts of winter — the hot chocolate, snowmen, tasty treats, and so on,” Dallas wrote. “We brainstormed and came up with some ridiculous winter activities.”

Crafts, including gingerbread houses, snowmen made of socks and rice, and make-your-own thermometers, will be at the forefront of Winter Wonderland.

“This event is a little different from things we’ve tried before,” Dallas wrote. “Instead of centering on games and having people earn tickets for prizes, the prizes instead become the craft projects that you make yourselves.”

Games will still play a role, though, Dallas wrote. Campus Activities Board will be holding games of bingo in which participants can win such prizes as winter gear. There will also be a sponsor on hand that will take photos and put them into snow globes.

Winter Wonderland is not just an opportunity to celebrate all (good) things winter, it also gives students one last break before finals week.

— by Tommy Morgan Jr.

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