If there was ever a holiday season in need of some powerful interdenominational cheer, it’s this one. With political Grinches calling for the exclusion of Muslim immigrants from entering the United States, we would do well to remember the unfortunate consequences of the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain in 1609, and the forced exodus of the Jews in 1492 that preceded it. These sad episodes marked the heights of xenophobia on the part of Spanish royalty and together brought an end to the centuries during which Spain could boast of harboring the Mediterranean world’s most culturally diverse population.
It’s fitting, then, that this season’s edition of the Christmas Revels should turn back the clock all the way to the 11th century in search of an era in which Moslem, Jew, and Christian were all welcome to express their faith in the kingdom of Andalusia. Featuring a cast that includes not only the Christian pilgrim Egeria (Meredith McMinn) but also such familiar historical figures as the great rabbi Maimonides (Robert Demetriou) and the Muslim philosopher Averroës (Luis Moreno), The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of the Winter Solstice, “The Treasures of Spain” is sure to inspire ecumenism of the highest order.
The Christmas Revels is a participatory community performance that’s steeped in historical research and redolent of the noncommercial Christmases of past centuries. By combining such traditional fare as Morris dancing, the Lord of Misrule, and the Twelve Days of Christmas with a different specific historical setting each year, Revels realizes its twin goals of instruction and delight. Artistic director Susan Keller painstakingly assembles a stellar cast for each production, placing equal emphasis on continuity and novelty. In “The Treasures of Spain,” continuity is perhaps best symbolized by the return of Matt Tavianini in the role of Joha, the foolish sidekick of Don Juan (Bill Egan). It’s these two who stumble upon the treasure trove of Andalusia in southern Spain and set the show’s plot in motion.
For novelty, there’s guitarist Chris Fossek, who will be making his Revels debut with flamenco stylings, and dancer Maya de Silva, a visiting artist from New York City who has performed her flamenco specialty with the Metropolitan Opera and at Lincoln Center. Dance artist and producer Alexandra King will bring her Lamma Bada Dancers to provide this new Revels with some Middle Eastern selections. As always, Solstice makes good use of the community in the form of choruses — the Solstice Singers and the Yuletide Children’s Chorus — and as musicians and dancers, as well. The Christmas Revels is a great way to introduce young people to the extraordinary range and simple joy of seasonal celebrations of the winter solstice. It’s also a good way to remind oneself that this season has been bringing people together in the spirit of goodwill and acceptance for longer than we have history to record it.
The Christmas Revels: In Celebration of the Winter Solstice “The Treasures of Spain” is at the Lobero Theatre on Saturday-Sunday, December 19-20, at 2 and 7 p.m. For tickets and information, visit lobero.com or call (805) 963-0761.