Christmas Carol Performed in Poolesville

By Tiffany Ayers

 

There’s a new production in town to compete with the various Nutcrackers, light displays, and Fran Ichijo, HGCBT artistic director, choreographed the ballet, beautifully telling the tale of a greedy, old man who finally learns the true meaning of Christmas. The production’s cast of about 50 included students from the Hope Garden Ballet Academy, grounded by stellar performances from a handful of professional dancers. A grand backdrop reminiscent of a 19-century English town in winter, combined with the emotional, stirring music of Claude Debussy, completed the dazzling holiday experience.

“A phenomenal backdrop and awesome structures set the mood,” said Jeff Jones, a member of the HGCBT Board of Directors. “Then the dancers began to emerge. These kids could dance! But more importantly, they could tell a story.”

Scrooge was played by Dustin Kimball, a professional dancer and Hope Garden instructor, who demonstrated his range of acting and dancing ability by portraying both a bitter, old man who refused to acknowledge the good cheer of the townsfolk as well as a young, virile Scrooge hopelessly in love. “When he played young Scrooge during the visit of Christmas Past he got to show off his athletic abilities,” Jones said. “But for the rest of the show Mr. Kimball combined great dance ability with wonderful acting, and created an old, grumpy Scrooge that moved with grace, and was the perfect partner to the myriad ghosts and other characters he encountered. He truly anchored this show.”

The three spirits were performed by two current students – Renee Terragno (Christmas Past) and Olivia Romano (Christmas Present) – and instructor and former student Lillian St. Claire Jones (Christmas Future). Christmas Past, dressed in white, with a lightness of step and elegance, pushed and pulled a reluctant Scrooge to confront his past. Christmas Present, with a delightful, mischievous expression and dressed in red, roused Scrooge from his sleep, spinned him around in a chair, and playfully cajoled him into looking into the Cratchit household, where the joyful family sat around the dinner table counting their blessings. Christmas Future, hauntingly performed by Jones, wearing head-to-toe black, ominously revealed a dark future that Scrooge would likely face – a somber Cratchit kneeling at the grave of Tiny Tim and Scrooge’s own grave stone with his name in flashing lights. 

“The spritely innocent Past, the fun-loving, mirthful Present and the haunting Future all touched the audience exactly as they should have,” Jones said. 

The performance was marked by clever story-telling devices, fine acting and breath-taking dances by the performers. In one scene, to represent Scrooge counting his money, Kimball performs with a group of girls dressed in gold. The dancers enter in a giant money bag, whirl across the stage and are lifted one-by-one by Kimball. Following the scene, Scrooge chastises a well-cast Bob Cratchit who has tried to secretly add a piece of coal to the fire to warm himself. 

In the second half of the show, the Fezziwig party scene allows many of the dancers to display their talents. Two boys battle for the affection of one of the girls, with a one-upmanship game involving leaps, jumps and cartwheels. And the younger children, dressed as gingerbread cookies and happy elves, entertain the party guests. “The smallest ones had a super-cute cameo appearance in one scene and actually stole the moment,” Jones said. These children dances, combined with a ballroom-style dance by the parents, all finely dressed in period costume, seamlessly transport the audience back to a traditional holiday party in 19th century England. 

After the party, the young Scrooge proposes to Isabel, Fezziwig’s daughter, performed by Suzanne Creedon, and the two enjoy a romantic, soul-stirring dance. The chemistry between two dancers can often make or break a performance, and clearly Kimball and Creedon succeeded in expressing that chemistry in their dance. In another clever story-telling device, we see Scrooge turn from love to greed, as he is tempted away from Isabel by a dancer scantily clad in gold, played by guest performer Carly Johnson.

As the performance progressed, the dances seemed to only get better and better, as some of the more senior students at Hope Garden performed. The colors of Christmas were performed by Ellie Creedon (Holly), Hannah Wills (Gold), Ellen Beal and Lizzie Phelps (Candy Canes), and Kimora Maier (Silver). Their performances proved how Ichijo’s work at her small studio in Poolesville can produce professional-grade dancers and convinced audiences that the production was no small-time affair.
“Overall there was an awe at the quality and the entertainment value of the entire production. Everyone recognized the thoughtfulness and effort that went into the entire experience,” Jones said.

Ichijo continues to delight her audiences, by introducing new scenes and dances to this year’s version and promising to add something new every year. The pageantry of performances on display at this year’s “A Christmas Carol” truly captured the Christmas spirit and created a fantastic holiday experience not to be missed.