A CHRISTMAS CAROL THE STORY OF SCROOGE. Two-act ballet based on the book by Charles Dickens. Choreography Veronica Paeper. Music arranged by David Tidboald. Lighting Wilhelm Disbergen. Original Costume Design Dicky Longhurst. Set Design Peter Cazalet. Presented by Cape Town City Ballet. At Artscape Theatre, Cape Town until 24 December 2019.

SHEILA CHISHOLM reviews

Veronica Paeper is one of those rare choreographers who can turn a complex story into an easy to follow two-act ballet without unnecessary padding. Her gifts, blended with sound musical knowledge, give her an ability to trim a score to match, without a glitch, her reworked version of A Christmas Carol The Story of Scrooge, Cape Town City Ballet’s seasonal offering.

In a good quality recording, why don’t programme notes credit composers, orchestra or conductor? The late David Tidboald’s arrangement admirably fits Charles Dickens’s story.

A tale concerning the importance Ebenezer Scrooge sets hoarding silver and gold, what he loses by this and how, after reforming, he spreads happiness around.

A Christmas Carol The Story of Scrooge
A Christmas Carol The Story of Scrooge. Picture: Pat Bromilow-Downing

A magical Christmas eve atmosphere

Linking scenes, jolly revellers and pretty sing-along carollers are Charles (Conrad Nasser) and Dickens (Xola Putye). Combining these with Peter Cazalet’s stylized Victorian sets, Dicky Longhurst’s period costumes, Wilhelm Disbergen’s lighting design and video clips they created a magical white Christmas eve atmosphere in Artscape’s theatre.

Veronica Paeper’s A Christmas Carol premiered in 1982. At that time John Simons made Scrooge so indelibly his own, no one has since adequately played the part.

That is until Paeper dispensed with using a dancer and cast iconic actor Marcel Meyer. As well as Meyer’s portrait crafting an extensive emotional range, he moves and prances as any elderly man would. In Meyer Paeper found the perfect personality to portray the cold-hearted Scrooge as Dickens intended him to be.

On Meyer’s fine interpretation rests this production. Scrooge’s character change isn’t natural. It’s all but forced upon him by four spirits, Marley his dead partner’s ghost (Johnny Bovang), sends to warn him he’s doomed to an eternity chained to money bags unless he mends his ways. Marley disappears (what happened to those other mid-air wailing spectres?) leaving Scrooge pooh poohing Marley’s prophesy…under bedclothes.

First spirit is Christmas Past (Hannah Ward).  Ward uses her long slim limbs, delicate fingers and footwork to presents herself as a kindly, gracious phantom leading Scrooge into his past. There he sees himself a lonely school boy (Gabriel Grassi) loved only by his sister. A little later (unenergetic) Ivan Boonzaaier danced Scrooge as a young man. He’s in love with Belle (Kirstel Paterson) but as money-making slowly replaces his feelings their romance fails.

In true Paeper style she choreographs a lyrical love pas de deux for the couple. She introduces delightful skating scenes. Here Stephen Underwood and Jordan Roelfze shone in a pas de trois with Boonzaaier. These two lads passion behind every movement are so exemplary they stand out no matter where on stage they dance. Included in this party scene are dear old Mr and Mrs Fezziwig, (Mervyn Williams and Danielle Wagner) happily dancing jigs and waltzes alongside Scrooge’s once-upon-a-time friends.

Mariette Opperman in CTCB's A Christmas Carol The Story of Scrooge
Mariette Opperman. Picture: Pat Bromilow-Downing

A Christmas Carol’s most enchanting scene

Mariette Opperman, wearing a glittering white tutu, dancing opposite Craig Pedro performed the two spirits of Christmas Present. In A Christmas Carol’s most enchanting scene, in which Paeper’s humour is brought to the fore, Opperman and Pedro follow the grand traditional classical style weaving between Christmas fairies, outsized green, red and gold crackers, mince pies, plum puddings, sugar sticks, holly and an enormous turkey.

A more invigorated partner than Pedro would have served a radiant Opperman better. True he caught her leaping onto his shoulder, and supported her in pas de deux presages. However, he appears to have lost interest holding his fifth positions, and overall technique together.

A Christmas Carol may not be formal classical ballet, never-the-less, dancers have a duty to treat their public to the best technical and artistic experience possible. Surely CTCB has no place for sloppy footwork or tossed off tours en l’air, a problem that permeates through many male dancers.

Not that the female corps were on especially on top form. They too lacked technical finesse through untidy, noisy footwork as well as poorly controlled pirouettes and unmusical moments. Perhaps Paeper’s penchant for speed, high grand battements, releve fouettes, fouettes en tournant and grand jetes en avant took their toll.

Back to Christmas Yet To Come. Earlier we met Craig Hedderwick making a welcome return to Artscape. As Scrooge’s underpaid clerk Bob Cratchit he, his wife (Olivia Parfitt) six hungry, pretty young daughters and Georgie Fryer as frail Tiny Tim created a heart-breaking scene blessing a scrawny chicken, and a teeny plum pudding, yet still remembering penny-pinching Scrooge in their prayers before eating their miserable Christmas dinner.

Paterson’s hard unflinching demand that Scrooge finally face how little his fellow citizens respect him finally taught Scrooge to spread love, charity and Christmas cheer, ending A Christmas Carol in merry dancing amidst swirling snow.

Who: Cape Town City Ballet
What: A Christmas Carol The Story of Scrooge
Where: Artscape Theatre Cape Town
When: Until 24 December 2019
Book tickets: www.computicket.co.za
WS