Loudoun’s Arts Groups Go Big with Online Holiday Shows

In a normal year, Loudoun’s performing arts scene is buzzing for the entire month of December with holiday concerts and performances. And the Loudoun Ballet Performing Arts Company’s annual “Nutcracker” is the icing on the cake. 

But LBPAC and other favorite arts groups are going virtual this year with fun and festive holiday streaming options. And if you’re imagining living room livestreams, think again: this winter’s holiday offerings polished, carefully produced specials. So get ready to snuggle up, make a donation and watch your favorite local performers from your couch.

LBPAC’s ‘Nutcracker’

This year, LBPAC presents a filmed version of the classic ballet. The online version brings a few modifications but will offer the same high-quality experience fans have come to expect.

For LBPAC Executive Director Cherie Maroni, the goal was to provide one last Nutcracker experience for graduating seniors and offer the community a sense of continuity through a cherished tradition. 

“My goal was just to get the kids on stage,” Maroni said. “Some of these kids who are seniors this year started out as babies doing Nutcracker. … I couldn’t let a year go by without figuring out a way for the kids to have their final Nutcracker.”

This year’s show features seniors Morgan Ponte as the Sugar Plum Fairy and Alexandra Hitrik and Stella Celentano sharing the role of Snow Queen. As in a normal year, the lead roles are double cast, and viewers can choose from two productions online starting Dec. 24. The playbill for the show will be available Dec. 20. 

Maroni’s team filmed the ballet in segments using five cameras for a high-quality film version. The performance features a smaller cast than a traditional production, with specially designed masks on dancers who don’t have “high cardio” solo roles. Soloists have quarantined for two weeks before the performance to protect fellow dancers, Maroni said.

In another big adjustment, the company is letting go of its usual practice of hiring professional male dancers to partner with young women from the company in lead roles. This year, Maroni’s daughter Emily Maroni, a dance student at American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, will play the Nutcracker. And this year’s ballet won’t have the usual lifts or partnering, as the Nutcracker is transformed from Clara’s Prince Charming to a toy companion that comes to life. For Maroni, the changes and adaptations are well worth it to bring the production to life.

Loudoun Ballet Performing Arts Company’s annual “Nutcracker” Chas Sumser Photography

“It works for what we needed for this year. The kids look amazing and have worked so hard. They keep on trucking with a smile on their face,” Maroni said. “This pandemic has taught these kids that no matter what life hands us, we’ll figure it out and we can always make a positive impact on other people.”

The show offers a swan song for longtime dancers and fills a gap in the community during a holiday season like no other.

“We’re really fortunate that we’ve found a way to do it and do it safely in this crazy time and still fill that hole,” Maroni said. “People can turn their fireplace on and in their own home have this holiday tradition.”

Loudoun Ballet Performing Arts Company’s “Nutcracker” is available Thursday, Dec. 24 through Friday, Jan. 15 on demand. Access fee is $25 and donations are also welcome. Go to lbpac.org for streaming and information.

BENEFIT’s ‘Hope for the Holidays’ Concert

The nonprofit BENEFIT has been using music to support local charities focused on children since 2016. With several large-scale summer music festivals under their belt, organizers launched the hit Crossroads Music Festival last fall, featuring revolving acts at several downtown Leesburg venues. But BENEFIT cofounder Ara Bagdasarian said he and his colleagues knew they had to come up with something different this year. After months of brainstorming, they decided on a pre-filmed holiday music special featuring favorite local musicians, including Juliana MacDowell and Mike Ault, Gary Smallwood, Jason Masi, King Street, Emma Rowley and the Master Singers of Virginia, performing holiday favorites. Loudoun’s Executive Director of Economic Development Buddy Rizer taps his rock radio DJ roots to step in as the emcee for the program.

“Given the challenges with COVID and really not wanting to promote people gathering in physical places, we had to come up with another idea,” Bagdasarian said. 

But producers wanted something way beyond a typical living room livestream.

Julia MacDowell, flanked by Mike Ault and Michael Gauvreau, films her segment for the Dec. 19 broadcast of BENEFIT’s “Hope for the Holidays” special at Morven Park’s Winmill Carriage Museum.

“We needed to do something that’s truly remarkable and unique,” Bagdasarian said. “So let’s do an old-school holiday music special like you’d watch when you were a kid. And rather than do it from people’s homes, let’s pick a really cool, remarkable location.”

The team at historic Morven Park near Leesburg offered up the estate’s Winmill Carriage Museum decorated for the holidays. An all-volunteer production team, including showrunner David Kramer, video producer Raymond Martinez of Leesburg-based Alimond Studio and Bagdasarian on audio production, made the magic happen. The featured musicians also donated their time, Bagdasarian said, and he already has a list of local performers who are ready to volunteer for next year’s show—whatever format it takes. 

For Bagdasarian and his team, the event is a chance for Loudouners to come together virtually and celebrate community. 

“That was so important to us—this has to be super special. On December 19th at 7 o’clock, we’d love for families in Loudoun County and around the country to gather with their families, grab a cup of hot cocoa and enjoy.”

BENEFIT’s Hope for the Holidays Holiday Music Special premieres Saturday, Dec. 19 at 7 p.m. via Facebook and YouTube. Streaming is free and donations are encouraged. For details and to donate, go to benefit.live.

‘Hope For Christmas’ From A Place To Be

Middleburg’s acclaimed music therapy studio, A Place To Be Music Therapy, has also done a special holiday movie musical “Hope for Christmas.” The show is designed to help children process their emotions during a holiday season impacted by the COVID pandemic. The 30-minute partially animated film featuring 22 performers from A Place To Be’s music therapy program and is narrated by Broadway star and Tony nominee J. Robert Spencer. 

“Hope and gratitude are extremely powerful antidotes to fear and adversity. We wish this evening entertains and inspires but also helps foster conversations among families about their feelings about the pandemic during the holidays,” A Place to Be’s co-founder and creative director Tom Sweitzer told Loudoun Now earlier this month. 

A Place To Be’s “Hope for Christmas” musical airs Sunday, Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. on Facebook and YouTube. Streaming is free and donations are encouraged. Go to aplacetobeva.org/hope-for-christmas to tune in.

LSO’s ‘Holiday Postcard’

Missing the Loudoun Symphony Orchestra’s joyful annual holiday concert this year? LSO’s free online “Holiday Postcard” concert airs Sunday, Dec. 20 at 2 p.m., featuring “Sleigh Ride,” passage from “The Nutcracker” and other holiday classics. Go to loudounsymphony.org to tune in.

Leave a Reply