Gainesville residents of all ages filled the Jackson N. Sasser Fine Arts Hall Dec. 2, learning about animals and summoning snow alongside Santa Claus, Frosty and Perry the Mouse.
Santa Fe College put on two performances of its annual holiday show, “Holiday at Santa Fe,” Dec. 2. Dancers from Dance Theatre of Santa Fe and actors from SF’s theatre program taught the audience about animals and the change of the seasons as they danced to familiar holiday music.
The show begins with Santa Claus, who has come to SF to learn more about the animals at its teaching zoo. When he arrives, two zookeepers introduce him to Perry, a Perdido Key beach mouse, who struggles to view himself as the “hero” others see him as.
“Perry and all the other Perdido Key beach mice are extremely important to their beach habitat because they protect our sand dunes from washing away,” Lacy Patton, a zookeeper actor in the show, said.
Perry is unconvinced of his importance because of his small size, so Santa and the zookeepers bring him along through the enchanted forest to meet different animals and convince him otherwise.
During the show’s first act, which uses music from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” dancers from Dance Theatre at SF portray animals that can be found at the teaching zoo, including caracals, squirrel monkeys and the eastern indigo snake.
With Perry still unconvinced, preschool students from the SF Little School parade across the stage displaying signs with pledges they have made to contribute to the environment — such as “save water,” “turn off the lights” and “share toys.”
As the second act begins, a collection of “Hip Hop Elves” welcomes the audience to Winter Wonderland with a dance to music from Earth, Wind & Fire and Run DMC.
Santa then tells Perry that, since he’s never seen snow, he wants to surprise him by making it snow in the theater.
James Albury, the director of the SF Planetarium, teaches Perry, Santa and the audience about the science behind the change of the seasons. Students from the SF Little School help him with the lesson and perform a dance to Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon.”
Frosty and the Frostettes perform a dance to a cover of “Frosty the Snowman” by Michael Bublé, featuring The Puppini Sisters.
The audience is then asked to participate in making it snow, performing movements to represent winter and some of the animals from the show. With the audience’s participation, snow flurries drift down to the crowd.
Dancers from Dance Theatre at SF portraying snowflakes dance across the stage to the final dance piece of the show, the “Dance of the Snowflakes,” which uses music from Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Santa comes back to the stage along with Perry, who is now convinced of his importance because he helped to make it snow.
“No matter how little you are, or who you are, you are important,” Santa said. “If you believe in yourself and respect all the creatures on the earth, you can have a big impact where you live.”
After the showings, audience members could meet live animals from the zoo and take photos with the characters.
Jonathan Miot, the director of the SF Teaching Zoo, said the zoo worked directly with the show’s director and performers in creating and rehearsing for it.
“We helped them learn about animals and learn about animal movements and learn about what animals do and then incorporate some of those ideas directly into the show,” he said. “We also helped them with some of the ideas and themes about how animals actually can help the environment.”
Miot hopes the show will bring its audience a greater appreciation for animals and their contributions and remind them of their own environmental impact, he said.
“I want to help people realize that they can also contribute to the environment in which we all live and help maintain that,” he said.
For James Albury, “Holiday at Santa Fe” has been a new opportunity for the planetarium to collaborate with the fine arts department.
The holiday show was originally more of a classical suite and didn’t incorporate the planetarium and teaching zoo, Albury said. In recent years, it has been changed to be more “child-friendly” and incorporate the same music in new ways, he said.
“Before the pandemic, we had a ‘Holiday at Santa Fe’ and it was much shorter, and it was basically ‘The Nutcracker,’’” he said.
Albury believes the new format will have more of an impact on audience members.
“We’ve learned a lot about those different animals, and then seeing it all tied in the Nutcracker Suite is such a unique way of presenting this material,” he said. “We also get to still do the Nutcracker Suite.”
While he doesn’t consider himself an actor, the show has given Albury the chance to teach science lessons similar to the way he does in the planetarium, but to a larger audience, he said.
“It kind of lets me be myself out there in a much bigger audience, because the planetarium only seats 60 people at a time, but it’s kind of cool to have all these people now,” Albury said. “The scary part was [that] we’d have to memorize lines and so forth.”
Contact Bailey Diem at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @BaileyDiem.
Bailey Diem is a first-year journalism major and a metro general assignment reporter for The Alligator. When not reporting, Bailey can be found playing guitar or getting lost in a book.