Inspired by Dickens’ novel of the same title, Northern Ballet’s piece really captures the essence of Dickensian London at Christmas time. Dickens’ famous renderings of the festive season made much of his work almost synonymous with Christmas. Dickens’ most popular novel, A Christmas Carol redefined the spirit of Christmas as an enduring sense of community and sharing. Northern Ballet applies these values not only to Christmas, but also to ballet itself.

Julie Charlet as The Ghost of Christmas Past © Bill Cooper
Julie Charlet as The Ghost of Christmas Past
© Bill Cooper

Northern Ballet truly emulates the hustle and bustle of the city preparing for Christmas amid flurries of snow. The feelings of community and jollity abound as passers-by greet one another excitedly, share a brief duet or hurry on to buy presents. The dreariness of a dark snowy evening is warmed by rich, colourful costumes and cheerful voices singing familiar carols. The thin form of a balding Ebenezer Scrooge (Sebastian Loe) disperses the crowd with a frown and a scornful gesture directed at those having fun.

Scrooge’s miserly scowl is expertly offset by Bob Cratchit (Javier Torres). His shivering cold, a result of Scrooge’s tyranny, is quickly dispelled in favour of excitement and eagerness to leave the workplace, expressed in his playful solo behind Scrooge’s back. A tense exchange between Cratchit and his employer acts to characterise them both: Cratchit as kind-hearted generous man, and Scrooge as the stonehearted money-grabber he is renowned to be.

The farcical attempts of Mr and Mrs Fezziwig (Ashley Dixon and Victoria Sibson) to join the dancing and festivities of Christmas past had the audience laughing out loud, as Mrs Fezziwig’s bloomers went on display and the pair collapsed in a heap. This playful exchange not only brings the party to life, but proves to any audience that ballet can be silly and humorous too.

Young Scrooge (Tobias Batley) and Belle (Martha Leebolt) share a sensitive duet before she returns her engagement ring to him. His futile attempts to win her back seem to sadden Belle, who wilts at his grasp and despairs at their moments of misunderstanding. Although once in love, they have become awkwardly out of sync and no longer move as one. This is an essential moment for Scrooge as he turns to his love of money in recompense for Belle’s love. Loe’s haughtiness gives us a glimpse of the man Scrooge is to become.

The dancers themselves are not only dancing, but acting to portray their characters, expressing their emotions in facial expression and body language, and singing too. Loe’s range of emotions truly characterise Scrooge’s development towards revelation in the story. Scrooge’s stern appearance subsides somewhat as we observe him in bed, wearing his nightgown, huddling against the chill coming through threadbare curtains. This is where his revelations take place, and where he is most vulnerable.

Haunted by Marley’s Ghost and phantoms of tormented souls, masked figures dressed in rags with straggling hair and large bony hands, Scrooge faces his emotional turmoil repeatedly throughout the night. His fear for the future and distress about his past mistakes sees Scrooge through a significant transformation. A lonely man who wiped his empty bowl on the bed-sheet before falling asleep awakes to begin jumping about on one bare foot, flustered in his haste to get dressed and begin preparations for a Christmas celebration for the whole community.

Northern Ballet brings this Christmassy story to life without any dialogue but vivid characterisation. Younger members of the audience will have no difficulty understanding and enjoying the familiar story, articulated by the dancers with skill. Accessibility is one of Northern Ballet’s primary concerns, and as a result I have never seen a more child-friendly ballet. Like their ideal audience, Northern Ballet’s cast is full of children, on stage alongside fully trained dancers. Local children are invited from performing arts schools to rehearse and perform with the company at their local venue. Tiny Tim is played by a four year old. This seems a wonderful opportunity to involve and inspire children in ballet.

Northern Ballet provides a light-hearted, Christmassy opportunity to become inspired by ballet. A Christmas Carol is humourous, fun and beautifully choreographed contemporary ballet. Whether you’re a die-hard ballet fan, a novice, or want to introduce a young person to ballet, there is something here for everyone. I challenge you not to leave singing carols, fully ready for the Christmas season.

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