The Magnum Force

by Suzy McDermaid Fridell

Magnum Force, choreographed by Suzy Fridell, glittered
and rocked the Wine Auction stage in a virtual Vegas performance that could have been lifted from Caesar's Palace.

Photo: David Bolling, Sonoma Index Tribune

March 8, 2010 — In early spring last year I began the always-unique, sometimes-terrifying, prospect of choreographing a large production number for the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. My performers are called “The Magnum Force” (named so for a gaggle of ladies in the Sonoma County world of wine). The ladies are vintners, enologists, own or run wineries, farm grapes, and manage or hold positions with various wine companies. Most of them have never performed on stage, let alone danced on one! They generously donate magnums (double-sized bottles of wine), 60+ bottles in all last year, for a big “lot” that is auctioned off at the Wine Auction in September. This was my sixth year of being in charge, and I promised myself that it would be an easy dance this time; but I out-did myself and made it incredibly hard. I even had trouble remembering the routine myself! The auction was Greco-Roman themed—“Come Party with Us, You’ll want to come Bacchus!” Soooooo, I came up with a “goddess-like” combination of Egyptian belly dance, Thai-flavored hand and head movements, Indian Bollywood glitz, Las Vegas gold lamé, and a couple of vibrating swiveling hip thrusts (for icing on the cake!). Not sure whether Nikolais would applaud me or disown me! We danced to “Venus,” the version some might remember by the group The Shocking Blue (not Frankie Avalon) from the chorus “I’m your Venus, I’m your fire, at your desire!”

I started the darn dance in March and was still teaching parts of it privately two days before we performed it on September 6th! My wildly diverse (physically, chronologically, and creatively speaking) group of 24 gals, whom I affectionately call my “Rag-Tag Rockettes,” finally (two hours before show time) became a cohesive group; and I am still amazed! Truly, two weeks before the performance we looked like “shit,” and I was depressed but desperately hopeful for miracles. I pulled out the big guns, well, only one actually: Squire, my husband, as the “loud and brutal, yet optimistic” director, to come watch us at the critical hour. (I couldn’t watch us as I always have to be in the dance, in the front, as I am the only dancer I want them to follow!) Though Squire maintained his cheerful and positive, yet strongly corrective comments, I could tell we were in trouble. My final solution was to hold emergency rehearsals in ladies’ offices, backyards, front rooms, tasting rooms, and wineries. I never had everyone at rehearsal (or all together) until the performance day. Yikes!

But “The Force,” mostly energized by fear, miraculously made it happen. Best part was when we entered the tent (holding 600 wine-drinking sots), the audience unexpectedly started clapping to the music! “Yea, they like us!” But then we couldn’t hear the music cues, and we got off count for a few breathless beats. “Oh damn, Oh shit!” I knew my dancers’ eyes were locked on me (’cause I invented the damn dance), and I held my breath… (a very long pause)… then we all heard the same CUE, which generated a Pavlovian response (an arm thrusting movement rehearsed 8 million times), and amazingly we resumed the routine together without one other blip! Is it any wonder that my blood pressure has reached new alarming levels?!! Still, I am proud to say we made $14,000 for our community!!! Anybody else want to choreograph next year? Helen??

I must admit that the camaraderie and creative challenge made me feel truly “ALIVE”! I’m not too sure how long I can keep up this high kicking (well, medium high) mirage!

As you can see in the pictures, my goddesses were very happy to have made it to the end of the music. I forgot to mention that it’s very hard to convince them that drinking wine before dancing in front of 600 people does not make you look any better! I put the fear of God in them, told them they were not allowed to fall off the stage, smile no matter what, and if we made it to the end (treat it like getting one’s driver’s license), that I would arrange for immediate and endless glasses of of bubbly to celebrate. That part was easy, as the CFO of Gloria Ferrar Champagne Cellars happens to be part of The Force!

During summer, along with the MF rehearsals, we hosted two weddings, did our normal winery tours and tastings, stayed busy with our “Bed and Get-Your-Own-Damn-Breakfast” cottage, bottlings, and started prepping for the Harvest. Yea! Now we’re about to start up with a new theme for the next auction, “Surfing Safari.” Ugh! I’ll let you know what happens!

On the right are six more photos from the Auction. The Gals: The Magnum Force, The Men: my husband, Squire, as MC Gluteus Maximus with his Clipus Boardus; and our Auctioneer, happily dancing away at the end. (Click the thumbnail pictures to enlarge them.)

Visit GlenLyon Vineyards & Winery, Suzy and Squire’s Web site.

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