Rising to the occasion

Annual ‘Season’s Greetings!’ performances were a celebration of dance and the holidays.


“Season’s Greetings! A Holiday Dance Celebration,” performed by over 200 Rise Vineyard Performing Arts students was, once again, a smash hit. The Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center was filled with an appreciative audience who anxiously await this holiday ritual every year. And for good reason. One piece after another brought smiles, enthusiastic applause, and shout-outs from relatives, friends, and dance enthusiasts.

Rise was established in 2007 by executive director Jil Matrisciano, and offers high-quality dance education in a nurturing and professional environment. She says of this 13th annual affair, “It is a homegrown effort to raise scholarship funds for kids on the Island who want to dance, but their families don’t have the means.” It also came about because, as she says, “I noticed that there was a hole in the shows offered during the holiday season. We wanted to fill that gap, and came up with ‘Season’s Greetings!’ — a dance concert for all things holiday.”

The performances showcased pieces from Rise’s ballet, tap, contemporary, jazz, hip-hop, and acrobatics classes, as well as those by what Matrisciano terms “the littles.” Sprinkled throughout were dances by the company, whose members compete off-Island. There was also a great performance by a group of dads and a mom dressed in all sorts of funky Santa outfits. The variety of ages and techniques made for rousing routines.

There were celebratory songs from Italy and France, and also those relating to Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. Just a few included “It’s Raining Tacos,” “Christmas in Killarney,” “Hanukkah Bounce,” “Christmas Can-Can,” “Santa Nicola,” as well as some old chestnuts like “Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” “Frosty the Snowman,” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.” “I love that the kids get to hear music that we grew up with with our grandparents,” Matrisciano says.

The winter performance is a condensed version of Rise’s annual end-of-year June show, but the preparation is rigorous for both the dancers and Rise staff. While they use professional costumes and sets in June, the holiday extravaganza comes from Matrisciano’s backyard costume shed, which is filled to the brim with everything imaginable for Christmas. 

The set immediately created a celebratory mood, with lit and splendidly decorated Christmas trees, illuminated reindeer and oversize candy canes, a towering Nutcracker, presents galore, and Christmas paraphernalia that gave the stage a nostalgic air. Each dance was richly costumed. Outfitting that many students is quite the task. After selecting all the costumes and accessories for individual dancers, Matrisciano says, “Over Thanksgiving break, we come in, and I probably have 40 bins of costumes, which we go through and size to each child, pack in garment and accessory bags, and then label.” At the end, they have to inventory, clean, and return all the items.

The excellence of the performances and precision of the dancers in each piece revealed that they had put their all into learning the choreography, and into their rehearsals. The hard work paid off. Every student proudly sparkled, and was clearly thrilled to be performing. “We keep the cost down so everyone can get the chance to experience being onstage,” Matrisciano explained. “That’s why kids dance — they love the opportunity to do the show. It’s a labor of love and a ton of work, but definitely well worth it. People have come to really love the show, and tell me all the time that they can’t wait for it. They feel like the Christmas season begins when they go to the Rise dance holiday concert.” 

Let the celebrations begin, because Sunday’s performances kicked off holiday festivities with a bang.