Arriving fashionably late for our first ever ballet experience at the Marlowe Theatre had consequences. After rushing to receive our tickets for Northern Ballet’s performance of A Christmas Carol, we neglected the bar to plunge straight into the dark depths of the theatre in search of row R.
With the performance in full swing, we squeezed past the middle aged ballet groupies to locate our seats that couldn’t have been further in the centre of everyone. As we got stared at, my boyfriend couldn’t help but comment on how the new theatre had done away with a central aisle, meaning that every hapless schmuck would be forced to squeeze their way past those savvy enough to arrive on time.
Our first view of ballet framed Ebenezer Scrooge clipping Bob Cratchit ‘rawnd the ear’ as he tried to warm his hands and feet on a candle. Both in period costumes before a magnificent stage set, Cratchit, played by Javier Torres produced some fantastic slapstick comedy behind his grouch of a boss. This scene was more Punch and Judy than Swan Lake until Bob burst into life, pirouetting across the stage with an elegant solo performance.
I had been wondering quite how ‘A Christmas Carol’ would be adapted to ballet after seeing many of its other incarnations on film, television and in the theatre. The period costumes, vaudeville music and slapstick was giving the impression of a twenties silent comedy, akin to Buster Keaton or Charlie Chaplin. And with very little dialogue (besides Jacob Marley’s appearance), the importance of the fine balance of theatre, dance and music was clear, especially in communicating how the characters were thinking and feeling.
As the familiar plot continued, with Ebenezer leaving the office of Scrooge and Marley, the scenery folded in on itself again and again like a theatrical Rubik’s cube. From a clerk’s office, to a narrow alleyway that then opened up again into a bustling street, we were accosted by a scene of London, straight out of the film adaptation of Oliver, complete with Beadle and street urchins.
Despite the characters’ silence during the production, the cast unexpectedly burst into song for me spoiling the essence of what ballet fundamentally should be, creating mood and atmosphere through movement and physical rhythm. At this point, I decided to stop being the ballet snob and went with the flow of all things stage.
The set continued to impress as the plot went on, particularly with the creation of Scrooge’s bedroom and the unsettling proportions of the tall sash window from which the beautiful ghost of Christmas Past would appear in a light wind and glimmer of snow.
The ghost of Christmas past took Ebenezer back to Fizziwigs, his former place of work where the cast created some truly fantastic set pieces, echoing the Christmas dances of Scrooge’s youth. This was interspersed with some more truly fantastic character acting from Ashley Dixon and Victoria Sibson who played the Fizziwigs.
As the cast moved off stage leaving Scrooge and his former love Belle, the music and atmosphere changed, becoming more romantic with the two embracing and swaying in synchrony with the poise and elegance that real experts of ballet surely long to see. The strength and accuracy of the two dancers was expressed in how they moved apart across the stage. Shifting slowly at first, the couple clearly represented the fraught emotions of the characters as they jarred to separate sides of the stage in a classic state of heart and head (or for Scrooge heart and wallet).
For anyone who has never been to see ballet like myself, even the most cynical who may doubt ballets ability to portray emotions and represents narrative through dance, I assure you, you would have been as thoroughly captivated as I was.
I can’t help but think A Christmas Carol was an odd choice for a ballet, but we thoroughly enjoyed the performance and would go again for the upcoming tour by the Russian state ballet troupe. And although we may not have needed to be introduced to ballet through more popular productions such as this, it certainly worked!
For more information about the Northern Ballet’s production of A Christmas Carol, or to book tickets for the show you can visit the Marlowe’s website.