Ashley Hannah Davis, as The Match Girl, looks fondly at mistletoe given to her by a kind young man.
Inspired by the processes of staging, rehearsing, and performing a ballet that I experienced in my own first performances as a young dancer — I first "choreographed" the story of The Match Girl at home in my living room at age 13 or 14. I've always loved the contrasting messages of sadness and hope in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, and knew I wanted to produce a real production some day. A decade later, I discovered a barely known ballet score by Jules Massenet (written for an entirely different fable), and found in it just the right inspiration and accompaniment for an embellished telling of the Match Girl's story.
My production finally moved from my living room and imagination to real life, on stage at the Orpheum Theatre, in 1986. It was originally performed by the young dancers of Memphis' then Youth Concert Ballet (which has since grown from a children's ballet ensemble into what is now Ballet Memphis). Then in 2005, I revived the production in what has become an every-other-year tradition for our Junior Company dancers — giving them opportunities to perform leading, soloist, and corps roles as they portray characters, express emotions, and develop technique through its challenging choreography.
The Match Girl will be performed tonight, as well as Saturday and Sunday evenings at 7:30 in the Ballet Memphis studios in Cordova. Tickets are $15/10.
These moments captured at last evening's dress rehearsal show many of the varying characters and moods of the story. (Photography by Carrie Echols and Karen Campbell.)
Kelly O'Daniel, Julianne Jorgensen, Monica Stacy, Rachel Davis, Brittany Harano, and MacKenzie Campbell as some of the teenagers.
Urchins Lily Scott & Reagan Gregory look on wistfully as the townsfolk celebrate the holidays.
Differences in class and attitude are evident as a helpful urchin tries to return a found glove to one of the wealthy teenagers.
In one of the story's sillier moments, Ballet Memphis dancer Alberto Gaspar plays a practical joke on two of his flirtatious admirers.
In one of her visions, the Match Girl dreams of falling in love with the handsome young man who had earlier showed her some kindness. (Vision Match Girl danced by Cleo Nikodem)
Danielle Coleman, as one of the angels who comes to escort the Match Girl's spirit to heaven.
Having given her shawl to one of the younger urchins, the Match Girl freezes to death in the snowy cold night. The next morning, her body is discovered by the townspeople — Ballet Memphis dancers Brandon Ramey, Travis Bradley, and Steven McMahon.
I won't give away too much of the ending, except to say that the Match Girl's death facilities a change in heart among the townspeople and demonstrates that great hope and healing can come from tragedy.