Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet premieres ‘Christmas Carol’

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Greed and materialism are timeless, so choreographer Tom Gold knew that setting a ballet based on the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol in the 1950s would work well.

New York resident Gold, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, created the world premiere dance for the Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, which will perform it twice on Saturday. The pre-professional company in Cuyahoga Falls is composed of nearly all females, so that required some tweaking to the famous holiday story.

Gold turned Scrooge into Ms. Scrooge, a hardcore businesswoman who owns a diner, played by Sophia Hamed-Ramos. Tiny Tim has become Tiny Tina (Emma Oplinger), and father Bob Cratchit is now Roberta Cratchit (Kirsten Linnen), an underpaid waitress at Scrooge’s diner. Three boys dance in the ballet: Scotto Hamed-Ramos as Scrooge’s former boyfriend and Jackson Gallagher and Wade Mesecar as village cops and beggars.

The 1950s setting was a necessity because troupe artistic director Mia Klinger had asked Gold if he could incorporate the company’s costumes from a previous holiday ballet, Nutcracker Swings.

“In dance, you really have to be smart budget-wise. You’ve got to be able to recycle and reuse,” she said.

The money-worshiping Ms. Scrooge wears a purple-and-green tweed Chanel power suit with a short black bobbed wig. The village is populated by girls in pretty, full-skirted dresses and capes in purple, orange and blue-green, while ice skaters wear dark blue frocks and little Sparkle girls don white unitards with festive bling.

Even Kristen Kringle, played by Llyona Lallement, makes an appearance in this version of A Christmas Carol.

Gold wanted to be sure the ballet wouldn’t scare young children, so he steered away from the usual darkness that pervades the story, especially when the ghosts begin appearing. The result, he said, is a light-hearted family romp.

“It’s not really going to be spooky,” he promised.

Klinger said the joy of Gold’s work shines through. “I love it. I think it’s so much fun. It’s so unique.”

Marley’s Ghost, played by Julia Mitchell, is still in chains, wrapped around her white gauzy costume, but that’s as scary as it gets. Much of the rest of the cast looks festive and shimmery.

As the Ghost of Christmas Past, Ella Davis and her attendants wear little gold sparkly dresses representing the ’40s. The Ghost of Christmas Present, danced by Annie Carroll, is dressed adorably like a gift in plaid stripes wrapped in a big red bow.

Annie Unk, the Ghost of Christmas Future, has a futuristic look with a spiked black wig and silver unitard and cape.

For Ms. Scrooge, Gold was inspired by the movie The Devil Wears Prada. He wanted to portray a woman who started out as a waitress and pulled herself up by her bootstraps, a Scrooge with a modern sensibility.

Gold saw Sophia Hamed-Ramos, a sophomore at Our Lady of the Elms, as the perfect choice for the part, both for her personal style and her abilities as a character actress.

“Sophia herself is all about fashion and style and looks and elegance,” he said. “I see that she’s a strong dancer but I also see that she has this acting quality about her that needs to be developed.”

Sophia, who is working through a sprained ankle and mid-foot as well as a stress fracture, played the part of Ms. Scrooge with a thoroughly haughty air at a dress rehearsal last weekend. Her Ms. Scrooge relies on miming to kick girls out of her diner who want hot chocolate but can’t pay. She also does a disapproving dust test while inspecting her maid’s work.

Gold said he wanted to challenge the dancers and take them to a new level with mime: “You have to talk to yourself. What are you saying with your hands and your gesture?”

Ms. Scrooge treats only those with money well. She spends a lot of time clutching her big green handbag, until her big transformation, when she throws it offstage. Hovering over her through her journey to her past and her ultimate transformation is Meg Klamert as the Spirit of Christmas, clad in a white unitard bejeweled in green and red and accented with a silver cape and crown.

The ballet’s music will be accessible to family audiences, considering Gold has incorporated soundtracks from holiday movies such as Home Alone into the score. Tunes range from the opening Good King Wenceslas to the festive, celebratory Sleigh Ride at the finale.

Gold has created four new ballets for the troupe, including The Little Mermaid last spring. When casting a ballet, he lets the dancers captivate him.

He thought Oplinger would be perfect as Tiny Tina: “She’s so cute and so adorable and she just has this beautiful face and sensitivity and vulnerability.”

He said he wanted to push Linnen, who is a strong technical dancer, beyond her comfort level to show expression and emotion as Roberta Cratchit.

“She has a child who’s ill and sick and struggling,” Gold said.

In this cautionary tale, the Spirit of Christmas takes Scrooge to see herself as a little girl, a teenager and as an old woman. In the future scene, a bevy of beggars dance to threatening-sounding music, cry and lie down.

“You don’t look hungry. It’s gotta say it in the face,” Klinger told the 16 beggar dancers at dress rehearsal.

Scrooge ultimately faces her mortality and realizes she must change her ways. In this pivotal scene, all four versions of Scrooge dance together.

“It’s a very poetic moment,” Gold said. “I love it. I think it’s quite beautiful.”

Scrooge’s transition feels very real for dancer Sophia Hamed-Ramos: “I get the chills because she changes, and I can feel that emotionally.”

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com.


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