HoliDaydream is a unique annual holiday production by the Minnesota Dance Collaborative (MDC). For seven years HoliDaydream has followed the character of Marie played every year by Miranda Shaughnessy. She was 10 when the show began and is now 17 going on 27, more on that later. HoliDaydream was created by and is written and directed by Shelli Manzoline who is the Artistic Director of MDC. Each year we follow Marie a year older on a different adventure. In the past the adventure has all taken place over a 24 hour period. This year, like so many things in our world it is different, taking place this year over a period of months. The other big change is that obviously we cannot attend this show in the theatre so the team behind HoliDaydream made the decision to tell the story through a video production. Born of necessity the approach has its drawbacks, but the end result is an entertaining and effective way to keep the tradition alive.
This years storyline follows Marie and her friends as the try to find Ms. Marta, played by Shelli Manzoline, the head of their dance studio who has gone missing. They look for her around the city and eventually decide they will have to get going on creating their Holiday show themselves. They meet regularly and discuss ideas and talk about what they hate about Covid, how their lives have changed, and what they are missing like proms, graduations, leads in school plays, etc. Culminating in what could be read as a farewell to HoliDaydream, I hope not. Basically the Storyline doesn’t really matter and is the least engaging aspect of the show. They are also the segments that reveal the shortcoming of the video approach. Dialogue that plays fine in the theatre as a set up for a dance routine takes on a level of reality in video that isn’t as easily glossed over. Time isn’t spent to make much of those intersong scenes work, which is fine, the dancing should and does take centerstage.
The video approach is a double edged sword though in terms of the dancing as well. One of the joys of seeing a dance heavy production, like I did with last years Holidaydream 2019, is taking in the dance sequences performed live and uninterrupted. I remember being amazed last year at the skill and precision along with the shear athleticism and stamina of these dance routines. The downside of video approach is that it is edited, you still get the skill, precision, athleticism, but the stamina is lost as well as the thrill of seeing it live. They were forced to make a decision of do you just set up a camera and shoot the dance sequences start to finish, or do you basically make a movie musical, or a series of music videos. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. I think in a theatrical world populated by Zoom productions and one camera static wide shots of stage productions, they made the decision that is much more engaging and inviting of a rewatch. They made some sacrifices but overall what they ended up with is a better treat for the audience and I think we all need one right now.
In total there are 14 musical numbers in the show shot in 13 different iconic location in Minnesota. Another benefit of the video approach they chose was opening the show up. They are reminding us of all these incredible places in our area, many of them places we cannot go right now, but we will, we will. There are numbers at the MN State Fairgrounds, the Sculpture Garden, Rice Park in downtown St Paul and many others. My favorite was the dance to David bowie and Queens “Under Pressure” at the Minnesota State Capitol. This segment had the best camerawork and editing. Many of the segments I felt were edited to heavily, this one while equally heavily edited worked, there were only a couple of shots I wish had been held longer. But as a piece it worked from start to finish and was a singularly impressive work of filmmaking as it was of the performances of the dancers, everything clicked. Other favorites were the Ramones “I Want to be Sedated” shot at Keg and Case a dance number that just put a smile on my face and had an energy then conveyed the fun the dancers were having with the number, which translated to the audience. “A Lovely Night” Shot at the Saint Paul Hotel is a duet between Noah Coon, one of three Male dancers in the troupe and Miranda Shaughnessy. It has a nice classy romantic feel to it making nice use of the location. There were a couple of just plain fun numbers that were enjoyable and made great use of locations. “National Pastime” Featuring Grace Sjolander doing a fun Marilyn Monroe pastiche shot in the Saint Paul Saints Stadium. Cade Kaiser has a fun featured part in “Barry Is Going to Prom” from the musical The Prom shot at the Calhoun Beach club.
I said we’d touch more on Miranda Shaughnessy earlier. Last year I took notice of her talent and stage presence as a dancer in a show at Minnsky Theatre. That notice turned into admiration when I saw HoliDaydream 2019, when I learned that at 16 she had also choreographed several of the dance numbers. I was bowled over and realized this was a person whose career I should follow. This year as always her talent in performance and dance are as amazing as ever. When I watched the credits at the end my jaw dropped to the ground. Many theatre fans find zoom and other video performances to be very hit or miss. I wasn’t sure how this would turn out. The Story sections are very much locked down cameras recording dialogue. The dance segments were another matter. My suspicion as the show progressed was that they had shot the sitting in a room dialogue stuff and a few other side items on their own, but had a professional or video student shoot and edit the dance segments. The Director of Photography was Miranda Shaughnessy. Camera Operators were Shelli Manzoline and Miranda Shaughnessy. Edited by Miranda Shaughnessy. Music/Sound Editor Miranda Shaughnessy. Last year she choreographed or co-choreographed 4 of the numbers, this year she choreographed seven solo and co-choreographed one additional. When I reached out today as I was pulling in the image for this review I asked who to credit for the poster design featured above. The reply, “We took the photo ourselves and Miranda did the edit”. This young artist is 17 years old. I don’t know if I have ever used the word artist more appropriately than I did in describing miss Shaughnessy just now. I don’t think there is anything more to say, perhaps a moment of silence to let this all sink in.
HoliDaydream: A Very Covid Christmas is available to stream by going to this link http://www.mndancecollaborative.org/new-page A $20 donation is recommended, but the show is pay what you can so that everyone can enjoy it. Clearly a lot of time and work went into this and it is important to support artists at this time as much as we can. It will be available through January 30th 2021. DVD’s are also available.