by Jane Fries for The Dance Journal
Paoli-based Ballet 180 presented its charming original rendition of A Charlie Brown Christmas this past weekend at Rosemont College’s Rotwitt Theater. Set to Vince Guaraldi’s jazz score from the 1965 animated television special, the ballet tags along with Charlie Brown on his search for the true meaning of Christmas.
A frisky opening solo for Snoopy, danced with cool, carefree spirit by Erin Grothouse, sets a playful tone for the colorful scenes that follow. Bridget Carlin and David Amado projected personable warmth in the familiar skating sequence, keeping pace with the melancholy strains of Guaraldi’s Christmas Time Is Here. A mischievous Woodstock (Elizabeth Strenge, displaying lovely classical lines) intervenes as Snoopy struggles to decorate his doghouse with Christmas lights. Charlie Brown (Daniel Mayo), depressed and out-of-sorts, visits Lucy (Jessica Frazier) in her psychiatric help booth. Bossy as ever, Lucy instructs him to get more involved in the holiday by directing a Christmas pageant.
The second act focuses on the rehearsal for the Christmas pageant. Charlie Brown attempts to get the kids to perform a dance with sincere spirit, and they half-heartedly comply, but are more interested in their own snappy, happy frolic. Hoping to restore the proper mood, Charlie Brown sets out with Linus (Matt Soojian) to find a Christmas tree. The trees at the market are represented by ballerinas (Julia Cummins, Amia Korman, Danielle Lomazoff, Nicolle Lomazoff, and Katie Ridder) costumed in elegant green tulle skirts. Uninterested in this forest of well-formed trees, Charlie Brown spies the tree he wants – a scraggly fir sapling. It’s no surprise when the kids make fun of Charlie Brown’s choice.
Guest artist Daniel Mayo of Ballet X thoroughly inhabits the character of Charlie Brown in a jazzy, angsty solo. Mayo’s soaring jumps and fluent expression supply the dancing high point of the show, and he leaves us to wonder if Charlie Brown will overcome his malaise and experience the joy of the season. Happily, the whole Peanuts gang pitches in to decorate the tree and wish Charlie Brown a joyous “Merry Christmas!”
Company director Kelly Murray Farrell employs a light touch in her crisp choreography, capturing the simple animation technique of the classic TV version. The bright colorblock costumes add to the comic strip appeal of the ballet. As a whole, the Ballet 180 dancers make their mark with a winning blend of musicality and bonhomie. The adorable youngsters (featured as a flock of chicks cavorting with Woodstock and as a shepherd and sheep enacting the Christmas gospel as recited by Linus) contribute their natural innocence to the heartwarming production.
A Charlie Brown Christmas by Ballet 180 has the feel of a yuletide classic. It’s a treat for kids and adults alike in a season where over-commercialization can too easily overshadow the genuine feeling of Christmas.
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