Based on the 1845 holiday classic by Hans Christian Anderson, the Pacific Ballet Dance Theatre presented The Little Match Girl at the El Portal Theatre in North Hollywood. This popular book has been adapted by various media including a Disney film. The Pacific Ballet production was directed by Director/Choreographer Natasha Middleton with narration by Richard Gikerson. The ballet version of The Little Match Girl was written by both Gikerson and Middleton and starred Elen Harutunyan as the Little Match Girl. It was an ambitious undertaking which they managed to pull off with only a few technical hitches. Noune Balyan’s set was smart in its simplicity so that scene changes could be accomplished quickly and Middleton’s projection designs filled in nicely the necessary interior information. Ann Lindsey’s costumes were perfect for the period in which this story took place.

The Little Match Girl was definitely a showcase for the Pacific Ballet School. There were twenty-four dancers with roles; half of those were company members and the rest were listed as guest artists. After that, there were twenty-two others who danced the roles of street vendors, wealthy young girls and very poor street kids.

If you are unfamiliar with the story, a young girl is forced to sell matches to earn money for her father who has turned to drink after the death his wife. The Little Match Girl is a story of the haves and the have nots and in this sense, very appropriate for these current times of income inequality. The young girl tries without success to sell her matches to the wealthier folk and she is in constant competition with the other street children for handouts.

Several times she lights a match to stay warm and looking into the flame, dreams of better times. Following a series of events, she runs away from home and failing to find shelter, freezes to death. Hans Christian Anderson considered this a happy ending because the young girl would never again suffer, and would be reunited with her mother in heaven.

Act I had eight scenes and Act II had seven scenes. The dancers even used the area in front of the stage and the theater aisles to give us the sense of the characters moving from one place to the next, an action that is definitely not new in theater.

With all the shifting of scenes and running through the theater, I came away thinking that I had not actually seen very much dancing. There was a lot of theater business and a few wonderful but short duets and solos. Overall, however, it was a production of pantomime and hurrying about.

I wanted to see more of Artur Aleksanyan’s dancing. He gave us a few hints at his abilities with amazing leaps and turns, but mostly he walked around and emoted. The street kids had a group dance that lasted a very short time and the main character Elen Harutunyan had several very brief solos which she performed beautifully. The scene in which she freezes to death was quite convincing. Her sometimes suitor, Brandon Forrest, has a very clean technique, but his acting skills definitely need honing. Here too, we only got a glimpse of what he is capable of doing.

Other stand out moments included the humorous duet between the Cook and the Butler, performed wonderfully by Heather Blades and Philippe Leibzig, and appearances by the two temperance sisters performed by Carol Ferris and C.C. Taul.

For a family show this production of The Little Match Girl was excellent and I’m certain that the audience had a wonderful time seeing their children and friends perform. For a professional production, however, The Little Match Girl fell short. The production values were there but where was the dancing? This was a theater production with some dancing included rather than the other way around.

Technical Assistance: Martin Holman – holmantechnology.com

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Jeff Slayton
Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, "The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber" and "Dancing Toward Sanity". For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

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