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The Dance Enthusiast (Philadelphia) Asks Eleone Dance Theatre about "Carols In Color"

The Dance Enthusiast (Philadelphia) Asks Eleone Dance Theatre about "Carols In Color"

Published on December 11, 2013
Photo by Krista Bonura

Philadelphia prepares for Eleone Dance Theatre’s 22nd Anniversary of their holiday classic

Co-Directors Shawn-Lamere Williams and Sheila A. Ward discuss the 22nd Anniversary of their holiday production Carols in Color

Eleone Dance Theatre at William Penn Charter School’s Kurtz Center for Performing Arts

Saturday- Sunday, December 21 and 22

3 p.m. & 7 p.m.

$30 general admission, $27 students, seniors and children, click Brown Paper Tickets

( ) for Tickets

Roger Lee for The Dance Enthusiast: What is the mission and artistic vision behind Eleone Dance Theatre?

Shawn-Lamere Williams: Eleone Dance Theatre was established in 1995 when the late E. Leon Evans, II, longtime choreographer and dancer, identified the particular need to cultivate future audiences and artists from underserved communities and the general need to widen access to the dance arts for all communities. Since 1998, Dr. Sheila A. Ward has served as Eleone’s Executive Director and I have served as its Artistic Director. We are also both founding members of the company.

Sheila A. Ward: In addition to its technical artistry and high-energy performances, Eleone is respected for maintaining a diverse and engaging repertoire that consists of a unique mixture of works by legends of American modern dance and emerging choreographers.  Eleone has been described as keeping the torch alive for the preservation and exposure of legendary works by Katherine Dunham and exposing a new generation to Dianne McIntyre.  Eleone also provides community engagement opportunities to interact with dance masters and educators. 

TDE: What was the inspiration behind the Carols in Color?

SLW: E. Leon Evans, II, conceived, choreographed, vocally and musically arranged, directed, and produced, Carols in Color in December 1992. Carols in Color is a holiday dance musical that retells the Gospel according to St. Matthew by using contemporary music, exuberant dance, and powerful narration.  Leon, as he was affectionately called, was well-respected in Philadelphia for his many talents. Carols provided Leon the platform to feature not only premiere Philadelphia vocalists and singing groups whom he worked with professionally, but also the ‘soul-stirring’ movements of Eleone Dance Theatre.

Eleone Carols in Color
  Photo by Krista Bonura

TDE:  How has Carols in Color changed the years?

SAW: The first Carols in Color with intermission ran about one-hour and fifteen minutes.  Since 1998, Shawn-Lamere Williams and I have co-directed the show. I am the only dancer who has performed all 22 consecutive seasons of Carols and ensure that the show is professionally and fiscally sound so that the artistic vision is realized.  As the Artistic Director, Shawn-Lamere Williams has adapted and restaged, choreographed, and sanctioned choreography and musical additions that keep the show relevant, engaging, and electrifying.  The 2005 Carols included the debut of Eleone Connection, the second company of Eleone Dance Theatre and the 2011 show saw the debut of students from Eleone Dance Unlimited, the Official School of Eleone Dance Theatre. Five years from now, we envision performing more shows and a longer run in Philadelphia and more frequent regional engagements.

TDE: What do think has attributed to the success of Carols in Color?

SLW: We have always said that this show is blessed.  Even through the most challenging times, Carols has always been enjoyed by audiences and we’ve been able to pay our bills.  As stated by co-director Sheila A. Ward in the history of the show called 20 Years of Carols, “Not until that first performance did the cast fully realize Leon’s vision. The show opened and closed to thunderous applauses.  Cast members hugged, smiled, cried, and said to each other, “Now we know what Leon was trying to do.”  Leon, through Grace, did it.  And, through Grace, Carols in Color continues today.”

SAW: First, His Grace has attributed to the success of Carols in Color.  Second, the sincere, authentic, and innovative concept of Leon Evans to showcase all of his incredible talents in a show that featured other persons was spirit-led. Finally, the unwavering commitment of the co-directors to ensure that  the work remains true to its original intention, relevant, artistically and financially sound, and, uncompromising. We never compromise on the passion that drives Carols in Color and all Eleone Dance Theatre productions.

Eleone Carols in Color
Photo by Krista Bonura

TDE: How do you and the cast prepare for Carols in Color?

SLW: Sheila and I work year-long reviewing all aspects of the previous year’s production run. This guides decisions for the upcoming season which include, auditions, rehearsal space and schedule, theater rental, equipment rental, technical personnel, costumes, marketing and advertising, press release, and, box office setup among many other tasks. 

SAW: Once we start to meet with the cast, we get in the spirit of the season by remembering the words of Leon Evans, “There are no leads in Carols except for Baby Jesus.”  The dancers start reviewing or learning the choreography in October.  The singers start rehearsal in November.  Because many of the dancers and singers have performed in the show for years, full cast run-throughs happen closer to show dates.  Each performance is prefixed by a group circle prayer.  The spirit-filled performance that audiences experience is “real.”

TDE: What can audiences expect when they attend Carols in Color? What can audience members expect to see at the upcoming concert?

Carols in Color is a holiday dance musical that retells the Gospel according to St. Matthew by using contemporary music, exuberant dance, and powerful narration. The show features premiere Philadelphia vocalists and the soul-stirring movements of Eleone Dance Theatre. The production will also showcase Eleone Connection, the second company of Eleone Dance Theatre, and our dance students from Eleone Dance Incorporated. Audience can expect to be deeply moved by this spirit-filled portrayal of the Gospel according to St. Matthew and performers singing and dancing through the audience.

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