Annual Funcracker Variety Show Cures Winter Blues

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By James Cromer
Photos by the Crozet Gazette

The finalé.
The finalé.

The audience at Western Albemarle High School Saturday, Jan. 15, was treated to a cure for the wintertime blues. Crozet’s own Albemarle Ballet Theatre (ABT) and the Studio for the Performing Arts (SFTPA) presented their second annual Funcracker Variety Show. The performance, a fundraiser to benefit the school’s Dancing off the Streets scholarship program, featured virtuosic and spirited musical and dance performances by local professionals and students.

In a nod to the season, the curtain opened on the Bobby Read Quartet playing a jazzed-up “What Child is This?” They swung through three more numbers, shifting solo duty among Brian Caputo on drums, guitarist Adam Larrabee, bass player Randall Pharr, and Mr. Read on saxophone, finishing their set with Read’s hopping “Spangalang.”

A series of vocal performances followed. The Offenbach aria “Barcarolle,” performed by Christina Fleming and Lilli Ross, featured the artful intertwining of the two singers’ sumptuous, classically trained voices. Fourteen-year-old Sam Scott, a ballet student at ABT, sang three jazz standards, self-accompanied on acoustic guitar. The young singer’s sweetness and precocious talent put a new twist on the familiar numbers. Particularly charming was her guileless take on Irving Berlin’s “Always.” The singing closed with the sultry-voiced Leigh Dick Phoenix, accompanied by local jazz favorite Bob Bennetta on piano.

After intermission, Judy Fisher of Faber won (on behalf of her granddaughter Addy White) the Dance Theme Birthday Party raffle that supports SFTPA’s need-based scholarship. To date, with the help of Albemarle-Charlottesville area businesses and community members, more than $50,000 in scholarships has been awarded to over 40 local students.

Next the lights came up on five young dancers in white while the sound of the incomparable Sam Cooke singing the spiritual “Jesus Gave Me Water” filled the auditorium. The 10 intermediate and advanced Albemarle Ballet Theatre students danced with heart, soul, and technique through the joyful “Gospel in Motion,” choreographed by Nicole Hart. The mood shifted from contemplative to celebratory as the dancers moved through the second half of the piece, set to Etta James’ “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” It was wonderful to see the young dancers engaged in the athletic dancing and so obviously enjoying themselves.

Veronica Hart and Ariel Rose
Veronica Hart and Ariel Rose

The high caliber of dancing continued with choreographer Kelly Silliman’s performance of her solo “Ordinary Joy.” Exploring the paradox of transcendence in a mundane world, the movement seemed to well up from within her before expanding outwards. The music—composed, performed, and recorded by Silliman—was a fitting partner for this very personal artistic expression.

The evening culminated with excerpts from that perennial favorite, “The Nutcracker Suite.” The inventive staging and well-crafted costumes showcased the students’ renditions of the second-act variations. The students were joined by guest artists Veronica Hart of the Charlottesville Ballet and Richmond Ballet’s Ariel Rose. Hart’s Sugar Plum Fairy perfectly encapsulated the contrasts of the role: strong yet delicate, regal yet warm. Displaying stunning technical prowess, Rose danced the part of the Sugar Plum’s Cavalier with a graciousness and presence seldom seen in so young a dancer.

Crozet’s residents are lucky to have such performances in their midst. The audience of all ages expressed heartfelt appreciation with frequent, enthusiastic applause.

Sam Scott
Sam Scott