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November 28, 2018

Dancing Drones, High-Tech Artistry, And A Finale For The Ages

With trail-blazing technology, the 2018 Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes takes on new dimensions. Remaining at its heart is a grand tradition, more powerful than ever.

The Rockettes reach for the stars in a dazzling new finale. Creative director Karen Keeler says, "it's all about their energy and light radiating out to the audience." (Photo: Carl Scheffel/MSG Photos)

It begins with the light, the North Star hovering over the Great Stage at Radio City Music Hall. Then the light begins to gently splinter, somehow into 100 playful, dancing stars, against a backdrop of a night sky.

A new kind of theatrical magic is happening here. Aerialists appear, tumbling and swirling, and the lights, ultimately represented by a tapestry of drones, pull in the performers below and finally the audience itself.

What is real? What isn’t? It’s hard to say, but the beauty is unmistakable.

The  2018 Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, underway with a spellbinding new finale, breaks through the boundaries of conventional theater, merging for the first time the newest innovation in performing drones, next-level digital projections and the grace and precision of the Rockettes.

The ambition behind all the artistry, illusion and technological wizardry is to carry the audience into a fully immersive experience. At the same time, the creators were guided by a core idea — to enhance and build upon the legacy of a show that remains dear for its timeless celebration of the season.

“Technology can be anti-human, something that distances,” said Sam Buntrock, who brought his stagecraft to a production that culminates with the new “Christmas Lights” finale, which fell under his direction. “We wanted to make something that honors tradition while providing an emotional punch.”


Playing With Scale And Illusion

Buntrock teamed with Intel, which in a first, designed drones specifically for an indoor theatrical light show. Obscura Digital unveiled new digital projections on one of the world’s largest 8K resolution LED screens and Radio City’s iconic arches, creating scenery that extends well beyond the stage.

Collaborating closely with Rockettes creative director Karen Keeler, Buntrock, Intel and Obscura unleashed their collective imagination, never forsaking Radio City’s intrinsic gifts, including the 60-foot-high proscenium arch and the band car (vintage 1932). The result is a wonder that sweeps over the audience and all eight of the ceiling’s radiating arches, from the first row of the orchestra to the top of the third mezzanine.  

“We play with scale and illusion and boundaries,” said Travis Threlkel, Obscura’s chief creative officer. “We want to bring people into the dream, into the worlds of the show.”

A rich and detailed Christmas tapestry blankets Radio City’s eight arches, from the first row to the last. The show’s creators call it a “completely immersive experience.” (Photo: Zack Lane/MSG Photos)

“Christmas Lights” picks up at the end of the “Living Nativity” scene — a Christmas Spectacular classic. The drones — exactly 100 — soon form a glittering snow globe around Santa, tracing into the scenes of warm Christmas lights projected throughout the theater. It becomes clear, too, that the drones are not a separate entity, but rather choreographed performers, an extension of everything happening around them.

Finally, the Rockettes appear, arms outstretched, sending out what Karen Keeler calls “their own light.”

“We told the dancers from the start, ‘we want your energy to radiate out from your heart, your chest, through your arms and legs,’ ” says Keeler. This year, she says, the Rockettes bring themselves to the lip of the stage, as close to the seats as ever.

“More than ever,” she says, “we want to feel the energy of the audience. That’s how full immersion truly feels.”


For your tickets to the 2018 Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes, click here.



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About Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp.

Madison Square Garden Entertainment Corp. (MSG Entertainment) is a leader in live entertainment experiences. The Company presents or hosts a broad array of events in its diverse collection of venues: New York’s Madison Square Garden, Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall and Beacon Theatre; and The Chicago Theatre. MSG Entertainment is also building a new state-of-the-art venue in Las Vegas, MSG Sphere at The Venetian, and has announced plans to build a second MSG Sphere in London, pending necessary approvals. In addition, the Company features the original production – the Christmas Spectacular Starring the Radio City Rockettes – and through Boston Calling Events, produces the Boston Calling Music Festival. Also under the MSG Entertainment umbrella is Tao Group Hospitality, with entertainment dining and nightlife brands including Tao, Marquee, Lavo, Avenue, Beauty & Essex and Cathédrale. More information is available at