I have been recovering from a relapse of cellulitis lately, so I have been staying home in recovery mode. In the meantime, my wife Melinda and daughter Mary Bartlett have been acting as my eyes and partners in covering area performances. They file the following reports on Ballet Tennessee’s recent revival of its production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at the Tivoli. If ever there is a hall of fame for stories that are most frequently adapted, re-told, re-investigated, most beloved, and beyond the ability of re-interpreters to do permanent damage to it, Dickens’ slim-volumed holiday tale, seemingly out of place among the massive tomes that comprise his body of work, stands among the top five of all time. I think we can safely look forward to even more versions down the road.
Melinda files the following:
It was a cold and rainy opening night at the historic Tivoli Theatre in downtown Chattanooga for Ballet Tennessee’s A Christmas Carol. The long box office lines were a testament to the popularity of this perennial favorite, but if ingenuity is not infused from season to season, sadly, a timeless tale can become an annual yawn. Not the case with BT’s successful marriage of a talented company with exciting guest dancers, all under the tutelage of Anna Baker Van Cura and Barry Van Cura.
What more magical venue than the Tivoli Theatre to make this production not just a performance, but an exciting holiday event, especially for little children whose contagious enthusiasm lends to the cheer of this festive opening night. As the curtain rises, and the music sets the stage, we find the Crachit Family gathered with excitement on Christmas Eve in the offices of Marley and Scrooge. This is a family that despite hardships finds the joy of the season in their hearts. Always wonderful to watch, and coincidentally Associate Director of Ballet Tennessee, Ms. Laurie Shastri dances the role of Gwendoline Cratchit, with guest artist Ian Morris, equally graceful and strong in technique as Bob Cratchit. Along with the young dancers, the family conveys the spirit of the season with choreography we have come to expect from this important company, and it never disappoints throughout the production.
Alas, to ruin the gay celebration, enters stage left the crotchety Ebenezer Scrooge, who, before shooing the family out, makes a beeline for his safe, making sure no one, including Tiny Tim, has made off with his hard-earned loot. Barry Van Cura, youthful and sprightly in real life, embodies this miserly old coot with painful realism. This character has only one great love, certainly not of self, but of his money.
The sets are impressive, the costumes are beautiful, and the staging is very effective from this first scene and throughout, creating a ballet which flows smoothly from beginning to end. The lighting, without being showy, effectively captures the expressions and technique of the dancers. Even if seated to the rear of the house, one can fully appreciate the movements of all onstage. An added bonus is the introduction of narration as the ghost of Bob Marley interrupts Scrooges duet with his money bags, as he drags himself across the stage reminding Scrooge that the call to change his ways must be heeded “before it’s too late.”
As we transit comfortably into the drawing room, the Grandfather Clock, a character in his own right, sits center stage. At the stroke of midnight, the young Spirits and Ghost of Christmas Past usher Scrooge into the dreamtime of memory. The music and choreography of this scene are innovative and delightful. We’re transported to the boarding school where the lonely, young Scrooge spent much of his childhood, as a misfit and outcast tormented by his classmates. Erin Bruce as the Headmistress, and Annabel Myers as the young Scrooge are convincing as the scene provides the backdrop to showcase the talent of many of the younger dancers, for it’s here that we begin to see the stars of the future for Ballet Tennessee. We miss the accomplished dancers who have moved on in their careers, but we’re excited to see the younger troupe develop as performers. There is a beautiful rendition of Silent Night before the curtain falls.
In Act II, we’re delighted with the little Humbugs, the youngest of the ballet company.
Who can resist these precious dancers who are a testament to the BT school, as these small children are perfectly at ease on stage and dancing very well! I think Mr. Van Cura may have had the most fun of the evening during this scene.
The duet of Brittany Johnson Mills, as the Ghost of Christmas Present, with guest artist Ray Hall was excellent followed by an exciting performance by guest artists Jin Hyuk Cho, Ian Morris, and Ray Hall. Mr. and Mrs. Van Cura dance a lovely duet as Ebenezer is transported once again into his youth as he remembers the lovely relationship he shared with lost love, Belle. The synergy between these two showcases their exceptional talent and one hopes to see them dance again and again in a broader range of performances.
The always more dramatic and foreboding segment of the Ghost trilogy is worth waiting for as Scrooge is forced is to face his mortality and the chance to make things right. The burial scene of Tiny Tim is most effective, followed by a strong and more contemporary performance by featured dancer and faculty member, Cinnamon Halbert. This is intertwined with, again, beautiful costumes and choreography in “The Dance of the Furies.” As Scrooge is witness to the three black-cloaked Scavengers invading his drawing room, the stage is finally set for his re-entry into the present with promises of atonement and renewed faith, both in himself, and in mankind.
The finale brings mirth and merriment as the entire cast reintroduces themselves to grateful applause, along with a touch of romance and a touch of snow. Ballet Tennessee once again takes us along, perhaps now more than ever, into the joy of the season, with its timeless A Christmas Carol.
Mary Bartlett adds the following eleven-year-old perspective:
This play is a traditional play that is very exciting to people of all ages. The ballet of the Christmas Carol was excellent in many ways, like the dancing for instance. The actors and actresses danced very gracefully and always looked happy. Some dances were very joyous for the holidays and sometimes a bit scary. What I mean by scary is that the audience looks afraid when the ghost Jacob Marley or the Ghost of What is Yet to Come haunts Ebenezer Scrooge.
Other qualities of this play are the costumes, music, and props. The costumes I just adored, and they looked cute on the little girls. The scenery I really liked because the scene would be pretty, mysterious, and the colors would definitely stand out a lot. The music I thought was awesome because it went with the dances, and the music was mostly the words in the story. I guess this is a story that you would say had magic in it.
These are some opinions from an actor and an actress about the play: “I thought it went well and I also thought that the songs and dances went together with the story. Some scenes were a bit different this year, but I still think that it was a great performance,” said Laurel Shastri who played Bob Crachit’s wife.
“Even though I missed the line ‘Humbug,’ the performance was great I thought. Everyone seemed to enjoy this holiday ballet. We might not be doing the Christmas Carol next year, but this year’s play will last a lifetime. I think that this year’s play went a lot smoother and better then last year. Last year, the play was quicker and wasn’t as dramatic as this year. In the play, I was picked up in mid-air by actors and I didn’t feel strained or afraid because I knew that the guys carrying me were my friends and I knew that I could fully trust them, it was more like being in a bed on wheels. I really do hope that we will be able to do this ballet again in the future,” said Barry Van Cura, who played Ebenezer Scrooge.
This play teaches us all a very important lesson of which to be joyous on holidays and to care and love all we hold dear and close to us. As Tiny Tim put it: “God bless us everyone.”