The Capitol Theatre in Windsor is set to transform into a mesmerizing world of dance and storytelling with the Windsor Dance eXperience’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Opening on Friday, December 8, and running through December 10, this production, under the guidance of Artistic Director Tiffany Chan, reimagines the classic tale in a bold new light.
Chan’s vision for adapting this timeless story into a dance production is deeply rooted in the unique narrative possibilities of dance. “A Christmas Carol is a holiday classic with the added element of a ghost story which opens up so many avenues for fantasy and different types of movement,” Chan explains. She highlights the contrast between the spoken word and dance, noting, “Words can sometimes tell the audience what to think a little too much whereas movement opens the floor for different interpretations and allows the audience member to relate based on their own feelings and past experiences.”
When asked about the challenges of translating Dickens’s rich narrative into dance, Chan spoke of the daunting task and their creative approach. “Dickens’ has some big shoes to fill but it is our hope that we have enhanced the spectacle and the majesty of all the characters, particularly the three ghosts. By taking away the words and adding exciting choreography set to unique Christmas Carols, we hope to engage the audience on a different level and help them really get to know these characters based on how the movement makes them feel,” she elaborates.
The character development through dance is a focal point, especially for key figures like Scrooge, the Cratchits, and the ghosts. “Scrooge (played by Ian MacDonald) starts the performance being relatively in control. He is respected (but mostly feared) and dominates the stage. However, once the ghosts start appearing you see him lose control. He is pulled from one scene to the next. He is forced to feel things he doesn’t want to feel and open his eyes to the state of the world outside of his bubble,” Chan describes. She also details the Cratchit family’s portrayal, emphasizing their complex emotional landscape: “For the Cratchit’s we wanted to really develop the relationship between all the family members. We felt there was more room to really show the hopelessness over Tiny Tim’s disease and how it affected the whole family but how they also put on a brave front for each other and embraced every special moment in life.”
The ghosts are envisioned with a distinct creative flair. “The Ghosts are a spectacle. They are fantasy and out of this world which gave us a lot of room to play with. They dominate the stage when they appear and each have their own way of approaching Scrooge,” Chan shares. The Ghost of Christmas Past (Ella Fortin) brings a sense of comfort with her carefree and hopeful demeanor, while the Ghost of Christmas Present (Aaliyah Deschamp) is portrayed as a figure of authority. The Ghost of Christmas Future (Zowie Strickland), in contrast, is a symbol of impending doom, intensifying the narrative’s urgency.
The production’s set and costume design also contribute significantly to the storytelling. Chan notes, “Most of the costumes are pretty standard with 1800s London, however our costume designer (Roxanne Liebrock) did take more freedom for the ghosts, impoverished children, and our added characters of the grave spirits, snowflakes, and chained spirits.” Set designer Brian Velocci’s innovative approach facilitated seamless transitions, as Chan describes: “He created a modular design that can be flipped, connected in different ways, at different angles to allow for our set changes to be like their own piece of choreography.”
Music selection was another critical aspect of this production. Chan’s philosophy on music’s role in storytelling is evident: “Music has the power to bring up memories and feelings from long ago so the music we have chosen may not always have the same effect on every audience member.” She outlines the musical journey of the production, from the “glorious and epic medley of rock Christmas Carols” that opens the show to the darker tones of the second act, culminating in a triumphant finale. “We wanted to take the audience through a rollercoaster of emotions, and I believe our soundtrack helps to amplify that,” Chan concludes, highlighting the production’s emotional depth and complexity.
He casting of key roles was a meticulous process. For the pivotal role of Ebenezer Scrooge, the focus was less on dance and more on the capacity for emotional expression. “It was very important to be able to see him lose control of his old self and embrace his new self, so for him we focused more on drama and acting and not so much dancing,” Chan explains. Ian MacDonald, who plays Scrooge, was chosen for his ability to convey a journey of transformation predominantly through facial expressions and body language.
Other characters demanded different skills. Chan described looking for a dancer to play the younger Ebenezer (Carson Diemer) who could embody “the life of the party” and effectively perform partner work and contemporary dance to convey feelings of first love. Jamieson MacNeil, cast as Fezziwig, was chosen for his ability to captivate the audience with “over the top choreography and stage presence.”
The rehearsal process, according to Chan, was like adding color to a black and white sketch. “We add in the color through additional characters, exciting transitional pieces, music, and elaborate scene changes,” she says, painting a picture of a dynamic and collaborative creative process.
Chan anticipates that audiences will connect with this dance-centric storytelling on a deeper level. “Words tell the audience entirely what to think and lay the story out for them plain as day. But movement and music allows the audience to interpret it in their own way,” she suggests, emphasizing the interpretive freedom that dance offers.
The production features several innovative elements, notably the snowflakes and grave spirits. “The snowflakes are a group of exceptional dancers that follow Scrooge through his entire journey… and provide an escape for just a moment from Scrooge’s hardships,” Chan elaborates. The addition of grave spirits adds excitement and depth to the scenes with the Ghost of Christmas Future.
Addressing the challenges of adapting such a classic tale, Chan acknowledges the uncertainty in communication through dance: “The question is always ‘Are they going to get it?’”. However, she maintains that as long as the audience feels something, the production will have succeeded.
Chan’s connection to “A Christmas Carol” is personal and reflective. “I really appreciate the whirlwind of emotions that Scrooge goes through to get back to that place where he once was as a boy,” she shares. This adaptation is her way of reminding audiences to cherish the simple joys of life and the importance of giving.
Looking to the future, Chan reveals plans for a dance adaptation of “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” for Spring 2024, with music by Ian Smith. This ambition underscores the company’s commitment to innovative storytelling through dance.
The production also engages the local community, offering educational and outreach programs for aspiring dancers and students. “This season we had adult classes, beginner technique classes, acro classes, and day camps to keep our community moving,” Chan says, highlighting the inclusive and educational aspects of their work.
As Windsor Dance eXperience prepares to unveil its captivating interpretation of “A Christmas Carol,” audiences can look forward to a memorable experience that blends classic storytelling with the expressive power of dance. Showtimes are scheduled from Friday, December 8, through Sunday, December 10, at the historic Capitol Theatre in Windsor.