‘A Dancer’s Christmas’ enters final season after 28 years

A Boston Catholic Christmas tradition returns for its 28th and final season when the Boston Liturgical Dance Ensemble presents “A Dancer’s Christmas,” a celebration of the Savior’s birth in song and dance performed at Boston College’s Robsham Theater.

The show began as a project by a then-newly ordained Father Robert F. VerEecke, SJ, who was teaching at Boston College, in an effort to integrate dance and movement into the spiritual lives of his students.

Father VerEecke, who is now the pastor of St. Ignatius of Loyola Parish and has been an artist-in-residence at BC for 30 years, said the show is divided into three acts. The first act is the re-creation of the Nativity with the shepherds, angels and the Holy Family.

The second act is the depiction of a Christmas celebration in a medieval town, where the local bishop has denounced dancing as sinful, he said. Later the bishop has a conversion, which leads to his dancing in the streets of the town himself. This act also recalls the original meaning of the Christmas carol, which the priest said was a combined song and dance.

Father VerEecke said, for him, the third act is more personal. In it he takes the stage to both dance and lead the players in “O Holy Night.”

When he was in the fifth grade, Father VerEecke said he led his class in singing the song and upon the line: “Fall on your knees! Oh hear the angel voices,” he instructed everyone to kneel down. “I consider it my first bit of choreography.”

It was about 15 years ago, when the priest said he realized that the show had become not only an annual part of the city’s Christmas, but also a show that was drawing more accomplished dancers than the first cast of friends and students.

“These dancers were looking to be a part of something more meaningful,” he said. In addition to some dancers who are veterans of the Boston Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” the show includes dancers from New York City, who literally shuttle between “A Dancer’s Christmas” and their other performance commitments at home. “We have had a dancer from the national company of Peru and from the Paul Taylor Dance Company, too.”

The ensemble is made up of 50 players, about half of them children, he said. Because so many cast members return every year, and some have been there for every season, the rehearsals are really tune-ups. “We are never really starting from scratch.”

It is true to its original form, but Father VerEecke said he makes adjustments every year to keep the production fresh and to reflect his own maturation as a choreographer. “When we first started, almost 30 years ago, the dances were more in a balletic framework, but as I got older I have explored using more fluid movement,” he said.

This year there are six performances. On Dec. 13 and 20, the shows are at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. On Dec. 14 and 21, the shows are at 3 p.m. More information is available by calling (617) 552-4002 or on the Web site www.adancerschristmas.org.