During a holiday season that is being tempered by grim economic concerns, Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, "The Little Match Girl," touched the heart of Burbank choreographer Natasha Middleton.
As the artistic director of Media City Ballet, Middleton decided not to produce "The Nutcracker" and began choreographing a new ballet based on "The Little Match Girl" and the musical "Scraps" for the Media City Youth Ballet. The show will be performed at 4 and 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Colony Theatre.
The ballet tells the story of a poor girl who tries to sell matches on the streets of Victorian London. She is freezing but afraid to go home because she fears her father will beat her.
Meanwhile, the city is bustling with activity, including pub girls dancing, two spinsters thumping their Bibles and excoriating the "sinners," and the rich, mean girls parading in their finery.
The match girl takes shelter under a bridge and lights matches to warm herself. She sees several visions including a shooting star and remembers that such a falling star means someone has died and is going into heaven. Freezing, she sees a vision of her mother and they ascend.
"This is a different type of Clara," said Middleton during a break in rehearsals at the Media City Dance Centre in Burbank. "This one [the match girl] has nothing, but she teaches us about the power of compassion and humanity. This year, I'm so focused on humanity."
Thirteen-year-old Alexandria (Lexi) Wong of Burbank, who has danced with Middleton since she was 3, will be portraying the match girl. As the lead character, this petite dancer must command the stage in virtually every scene in the 90-minute show.
"There are so many different expressions I have to do," said Lexi after her morning ballet class. "I have to be sad, angry, happy, loving. I can express myself better through movement and dance.
"I'm very excited about it, but it is a big responsibility," said Lexi, who is home-schooled by her mother so she can be at the dance studio for up to six hours a day.
The show is as much a theatrical production as it is a ballet, Middleton noted. In addition to the classical ballet, folk and social dances and pantomime, she is using a narrator (Richard W. Gilkerson) to ensure the audience follows the storyline.
Wong doesn't take acting lessons, but she is getting some friendly tips from the veteran actors in the cast such as Elmarie Wendel (the cook), who has appeared on the "George Lopez Show" and "3rd Rock from the Sun;" and Michael A. Hamilton (the father), who appeared on "Desperate Housewives" and "CSI."
The production features 49 dancers who range in age from 7 to 75.
"I think it's refreshing to have something different for the holiday season," said Glendale resident Carol Ferris, who at age 75 will be providing some comic relief as one of the prissy Bible thumpers, Winifred Doyle. "It's always energizing being in the creative process."
What: "The Little Match Girl"
Who: Media City Youth Ballet
Where: Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St., Burbank
When: 4 and 7 p.m. Dec. 18
Contact: (818) 972-9692, or http://www.MediaCityBallet.org