Photos by Alen Fetahi
One doesn’t have to travel to New York City to see onstage magic in a holiday production. All the charm one could imagine was on display at the Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) this past weekend as the Saugerties-based Ulster Ballet Company presented “A Christmas Carol” in three performances for the 20th consecutive year.
The ballet was originally conceived of by company members, among them Bill Reinhart of Saugerties, who was the original Young Scrooge, among many other characters. He’s now the company prop master. Reinhart said the inspiration was the theme of redemption as dramatized in the George C. Scott film version of the story. Sara Miot, now of Catskill but a dancer with the New York City Ballet at the time, was asked to do the choreography. “I was able to choreograph it as soon as I found the (Vaughn Williams) music,” she said backstage before the performance on Saturday night.
The production has evolved over the past 20 years in every aspect, growing from a much shorter version without permanent sets to a visual spectacular, thanks to the artistry of costume mistress and owner of First Street Dancewear Jane Hansell and set designer Leslie Bender. The ballet was performed the first year at Saugerties High School and moved the second year to UPAC, where, Reinhart has been told by staff, “It is the most complicated show UPAC runs because of the number of scenes, the size of the cast, the multiple costume changes, the size of the stage crew and the lighting requirements.” According to Miot, the choreography changes slightly every year to showcase the abilities of the dancers involved. Reinhart added that the choreography is also influenced by the fact that some roles are played by actors who must learn to dance for their roles.
Many of this year’s adult cast members had danced in some or even all of the productions, giving polish and depth to the performance. Artistic directors Quiedo Carbone and native Saugertiesian Scarlett Fiero take major roles, together as the exuberant and astonishingly energetic Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig in act one, and Carbone as a compelling and memorable Spirit of Christmas Present in act two.
Dickens didn’t create the character Greed in his novel, but the audience was grateful that Miot did for the ballet; Aubrey Contini dances the role powerfully. She appeared again in act two as an equally strong Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come. Also notable among principal dancers, all of whom take on more than one role, were Erica Wolf as the Dancing Doll, Michael Evan Werner as Young Scrooge, Justine Maletta-Snibur as Belle, and this year’s Scrooge, onstage in nearly every scene, played for the first time by Thomas Foote with plenty of vigor and pathos.
Many of the delights of the ballet are provided by the younger dancers, all students at the Saugerties Ballet Center. They ranged from eight years of age to teenagers. Their strong training yielded confident performances, the product of what they described as serious rehearsal time. Their enthusiasm for being part of the production was evident shortly before the curtain went up as they spoke about their characters, the fun of rehearsals, and the thrill of being on stage.
Two families have three members each in the cast this year: the Wolf family of Saugerties, with Jody, Nicholas, and Erica; and the Gregory family from Lake Katrine, with Braden in a number of scenes as different children, Gabrielle as one of four showcased Christmas sprites and their father, Bob, as a banker in the Old City of London. Camaraderie among the younger performers was strong. Braden Gregory, last year’s Tiny Tim, said he coached Griffin Bacon, who played the role this year, with his limp.
The standing ovation at the end of the performance was well deserved. For those who missed out, the tradition will continue next December with number 21.