Creative Ballet Shows Darker Beauty of the Holiday Season
Playing in the last weeks of November during a still-sunny California winter, Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre’s The Little Match Girl is a departure from the usual holiday fare of A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker. The El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood hosted this two-night only event Nov. 21-22. Mixed with the musical Scraps, this re-imagining of the classic story by Hans Christian Andersen finds our Little Match Girl trying to survive Christmas Eve in Victorian England, where social snobbery and ragged street children are the norm.
Narrated live by writer Richard Gilkerson in a booming baritone, this two-act show deepens the story with more plot and characters: revelers in a lively pub, butlers and cooks and snooty rich girls, more than a dozen street children with names and personalities, and literal “Bible thumpers”. Humor mixes beautifully with sorrow, and the story ends on a triumphant note. There is an element of 1920s-silent movie, and the whole ballet feels old-fashioned in a timeless way.
The Little Match Girl is a vibrant waif who flirts with an arrogant servant boy, chases the past in the form of her dead mother, and ultimately finds herself alone and friendless on Christmas night. Elen Harutunyan commands the stage as The Little Match Girl, a tiny dynamo of fantastic leaps whose every silent sob and shiver breaks hearts in the audience. Her hopefulness, joy, spunk, despair, and love make the story.
One particularly beautiful scene involves the Little Match Girl dancing with a portrait of her dead mother, and the emotions were so strong that no narration was needed. And none was given, just the song “Hallelujah.”
Harutunyan is opposed by Artur Alexsanyan as her uncaring father, and given kindness by Damara Titmus as her father’s girl, pub dancer Josie. The story flits in and out of grimy streets, servants’ quarters, posh ballet studios, and a jolly Irish pub. It reminds all of us, come Christmastime, that some are less fortunate than others and need love, warmth, and family just as much.
Artistic Director/Producer/ Co-Writer Natasha Middleton says of this production: “The Little Match Girl is one of my favorite period pieces, from the costumes to the music to the character ballet mixed with Celtic clogging … and of course, the storyline that holds a candle to my own heart.”
May we all hold a candle to our hearts this holiday season, and never forget the brave Little Match Girl.
For more information about Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre, including upcoming shows, visit pacificballetdancetheatre.com.