A Christmas Carol - Royal New Zealand Ballet
3 December 2014, ASB Theatre - Auckland
Reviewed by Jenny Stevenson
Although the recent season of the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s A Christmas Carol has proved to be a hit with both audiences and critics alike, I remain at a loss to understand why Russell Kerr’s very fine 2001 version of the work has been passed over in favour of this less satisfying adaptation of the classic Dicken’s tale.
The ballet which was originally created for Northern Ballet in the United Kingdom, adheres to the storyline, but the characterisations of Dicken’s masterful creations are often thinly drawn in Moricone’s choreography, while the dark undercurrents of poverty, miserliness and greed seem underplayed. Similarly, the spectral visitations are less than chilling, with the extravagant costumes – one with a head-dress of glittering lights – detracting from manifesting the inherent terror of the supernatural element.
Paul Mathews valiantly makes the most of the material he is given in the central role of Scrooge – but it is meagre fare, until the last Act when he suddenly bursts into an extended dance sequence –celebrating his transformation to a state of generosity - replete with the spirit of Christmas. But the hand-wringing histrionics that he is given in the preceding acts as he is being shown the effect of his uncharitable behaviour, is strangely at odds with the youthful vigour of his dancing once he has reformed.
One of the most attractive elements of the ballet is the heart-felt singing of Christmas songs and carols by the multi-talented cast of the Royal New Zealand Ballet who throw themselves fully into this production, obviously relishing the opportunity to also perform vocally. Young Quinn Bevan as Tiny Tim threatens to steal the show with his soulful solo.
Moricone utilises a folksy dance vocabulary with recurring stylistic phrases being used freely throughout the work. The most appealing dance section of the evening is the edgy duet between the young Scrooge danced by new-comer Shane Urton and his first love, Belle Fezziwig, performed by Lucy Green in what proves to be a strong partnership. Green is sweetly fragile and projects genuine distress when she is left bereft, as Scrooge succumbs to the allure of money. Kohei Iwamoto gives a strong performance as Bob Cratchit, utilising his natural exuberance and elevation to great effect.
The music by Carl Davis contributes significantly to the production and its intrinsic energy is palpable in the performance by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra under the baton of Nigel Gaynor. The set design by Lez Brotherston, beautifully lit by Jon Buswell, is outstanding - enabling seamless changes between the acts.