Royal New Zealand Ballet
ASB Theatre, Aotea Centre, Thursday 4th December
With the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra
A Christmas Carol is a Northern Ballet production, bringing to our shores the first performance of the classics Dickens tale outside of the UK. The creative team – Christopher Gable CBE/Director, Massimo Moricone/Choreographer and Daniel De Andrade/Producer enabled the Royal New Zealand Ballet to present their rich and entertaining ballet to a Kiwi audience.
This is a great first ballet to go to if you’re not a classical ballet aficionado. You don’t need to know anything about technique or mime to follow the story. The set and costumes create a narrative in themselves, and the dance sections are segmented between acting and live singing from the dancers.
The ballet is magical for children, and the pace of the story means that new audience members will not be challenged by long sections of choreography. Dickens’ colourful characters and enduring Christmas message of generosity will appeal to the whole family, both young and old.
So, what should you expect if you’re giving A Christmas Carol a whirl as your first narrative ballet? First of all, I recommend buying a programme, and reading the Act 1 synopsis before the show begins. A narrative ballet tells a story, but it does so without words – it’s more enjoyable when you know which characters and scenes to look out for. A complimentary cast list is available for every show – look for them under the television screen showing RNZB footage in the centre of the foyer. With more than twenty characters in this story, I found the cast list a helpful reference during the show.
The scene is set as the audience enters, with partially lit dancers moving behind a gauze. Lighting and projection create the atmosphere of 1870s London mid-winter. The orchestra are in place, and they begin to play as the lights dim. This is the time to make sure your phones are switched off, and to stop conversations. Many people attend ballet to be transported into the world onstage, so ballet etiquette requires silence from the audience.
The story unfolds in three Acts. There is a twenty-minute intermission between each act, which is a good chance to read the programme notes for the following Act. A ballet audience will applaud during the act for a number of reasons; following a virtuosic performance, responding to a pleasing group number or in appreciation of an effective comic moment. New Zealand audiences are known for being reserved, so go to the ballet knowing it’s okay to laugh when it’s supposed to be funny, and the dancers appreciate a responsive audience.
The set is a real treat – stylised and impressive. The moving parts of the set are manipulated to create a range of scenes; a staircase, Scrooge’s office, the Fezziwig home and Scrooge’s frugal bedroom. The speed and variety of these changes is integrated with ease into the action onstage. Lighting Designer Jon Buswell creates the magic that enhances the staging of this ballet. The one draw-back for such a grand set design is that space is compromised for the dancers. In most scenes, this is managed well, although the large corps (body of the ballet: the ensemble or chorus dancers) number in Act 1 the dancers were noticeably condensed.
A Christmas Carol’s costumes are plush and beautiful. The three ghosts, of Christmas Past, Present, and Future juxtapose and complement; they're completely magical. Most impressive is the skull-faced, skeletal-winged rags of the Ghost of Christmas Future. The Phantoms have elaborate, layered costumes suggestive of wastage and suffering. These characters provide a strong contrast with the traditional and sumptuous corps costumes. The choreography for the Phantoms is contemporary classical – looser and less structured than the rest of the ballet – making them a favourite element of the show for many of the audience.
Paul Mathews as Ebenezer Scrooge was detailed and convincing. His manipulation of body and expression transformed his physique from a young, vibrant dancer into the miser we love to hate. Kohei Iwamoto, as Bob Cratchit, created a subtle yet authentic character. His solo work was clean and well presented, and he has developed a strong connection with the audience as an artist and a dancer. Mr and Mrs Fezziwig (Rory Fairweather-Neylan and Bronte Kelly) delighted the audience, and got everyone giggling.
The Act 2 pas de deux (dance for two, usually a romantic male/female partnership) between Young Scrooge (Shane Urton) and Belle Fezziwig (Lucy Green) was the highlight of the show for me. The choreography was elegant and sophisticated, and the performance was both technically strong and genuinely emotional. Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Past watch as Belle tells Young Scrooge that she will not be his wife, because he has a greater love than her – gain.
The ballet finishes with the ending we are waiting for, and a choreographed finale complete with falling snow. A Christmas Carol is an extremely theatrical production, guaranteed to get you in the festive spirit.
Gold stars: 4/5