The Little Match Girl Passion: A Photo Tour

 

This December, Verdigris performed its most ambitious project to date when they and Avant Chamber Ballet brought David Lang’s The Little Match Girl Passion came to life on stage at Moody Performance Hall. As a singer, I can attest to the emotional impact felt by both musicians and dancers as we shared the stage to tell this affecting story. Dickie Hill joined us for our dress rehearsal on Thursday night before we opened the show. Step through his lens to view this collaborative effort up close.

The lights come up on the first movement as we prepare to bring the music and dance together for the first time. Photo: Dickie Hill

Libby and Erinn put their heads together on a difficult passage in the soprano part. Photo: Dickie Hill

Libby and Erinn put their heads together on a difficult passage in the soprano part. Photo: Dickie Hill

In our initial planning conversations, Sam, Katie, and I felt that having the singers in bare feet would connect the ensemble to the narrative and the bare feet of the little match girl. Peep the toes in the upcoming photos.

Making sure the musical details are solid before we begin with the dancers. Photo: Dickie Hill

Making sure the musical details are solid before we begin with the dancers. Photo: Dickie Hill

Making sure that tempi work for both singer and dancers. Photo: Dickie Hill

Making sure that tempi work for both singer and dancers. Photo: Dickie Hill

Avant Chamber Ballet dancers used recordings for the initial stages of their rehearsal process, so aligning tempi was an important part of our rehearsal, as each ensemble adjusted to the needs of the other. Emily Dixon Alba, who danced the role of the grandmother, spoke with Theater Jones about the experience of putting this piece together with live music.

Sam talks with Emily about tempi. Photo: Dickie Hill

Sam talks with Emily about tempi. Photo: Dickie Hill

Katie made sure that the singers’ movement stayed in character and was as graceful as that of the dancers. Photo: Dickie Hill

Katie made sure that the singers’ movement stayed in character and was as graceful as that of the dancers. Photo: Dickie Hill

At the end of the rehearsal, each director met with their ensemble to clarify and clean up any moments that needed refining.

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Bare, tired feet. Photo: Dickie Hill

Bare, tired feet. Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Waiting in the wings before entering for the first movement. Photo: Dickie Hill

Waiting in the wings before entering for the first movement. Photo: Dickie Hill

The piece started and ended with Verdigris standing in front of the curtain. As we walked to and from our places, we took extra care to move with uniformity and grace. Katie had us initiate every position shift with the right-hand side of the body - step with right foot, turn over right shoulder, etc.

Moving from the first movement formation to our upstage position. Photo: Dickie Hill

Moving from the first movement formation to our upstage position. Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

The Little Match Girl enters the stage. Photo: Dickie Hill

The Little Match Girl enters the stage. Photo: Dickie Hill

Juliann McAloon danced the role of the little match girl with grace and deep emotional connection. Photo: Dickie Hill

Juliann McAloon danced the role of the little match girl with grace and deep emotional connection. Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

The Little Match Girl strikes a match. Photo: Dickie Hill

The Little Match Girl strikes a match. Photo: Dickie Hill

I still get a rush of emotion thinking about the two scenes shared by the little match girl (Juliann McAloon) and the vision of her grandmother (Emily Dixon Alba). My brother was in town to see the show, and both he and I could hardly speak coherently about the duet between girl and grandmother, the only character who shows love the little girl. As we sang, most of us had to intently concentrate on our music and train our eyes on Sam, lest we get caught up in the emotion of these scenes and lose the ability to perform effectively.

the little match girl (Juliann McAloon) and the vision of her grandmother (Emily Dixon Alba). Photo: Dickie Hill

the little match girl (Juliann McAloon) and the vision of her grandmother (Emily Dixon Alba). Photo: Dickie Hill

From movement twelve: “her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain.”

The little match girl dies and the dancers change to a white dress of mourning.

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

The dancers, now clad in white, place the corpse of the little match girl. Photo: Dickie Hill

The dancers, now clad in white, place the corpse of the little match girl. Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

From movement 14: “She had been frozen to death on the last evening of the old year…No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother on New Year’s Day. The curtain closes on the little match girl, and the Verdigris singers return to the front of the stage to sing the final movement, “Rest soft.”

Photo: Dickie Hill

Photo: Dickie Hill

You can (and I would highly encourage you to) read the whole libretto. This performance received generous reviews in D Magazine who called it “shimmering in its terrible beauty.” Theater Jones called the collaboration a “bold endeavor…impeccable, cohesive.” Cheryl Callon called the collaboration one of the North Texas standouts for 2018. Katie Dravenstott also chose it as a highlight of North Texas dance for 2018.

In his 2018 wrap-up, Gregory Isaacs lauds Verdigris, saying, “If you think that a choral concert consists of a group of singers on risers singing a range of music from uninteresting to esoteric, passing through wonderful on occasion, then you haven’t seen Verdigris Ensemble. Sam Brukhman’s innovative chorale, populated by some of the top local singers, is always as excellent as it is surprising.”

We are finishing 2018 feeling a deep sense of pride and gratitude. Pride in the ways we’ve brought beauty and creativity to Dallas, and gratitude for the donors, patrons, and collaborators who have been part of our rapid growth. Consider helping us reach our full-season funding goal of $60,000. We are almost 60% of the way towards successfully funding this entire season’s lineup of significant, innovative projects.

 
Erinn Sensenig