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Cambridge Youth Dance Co. puts modern spin on Christmas classic

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Cambridge Youth Dance Co. puts modern spin on Christmas classic
Emily Cratchit (Jenny Oliver) and Tiny Tim (Louisa Krivàk). PHOTO: MELINDA MERCHANT

For the 11th year, Deborah Mason’s Cambridge Youth Dance Company and a stellar roster of adult guest artists will perform “What the Dickens!” — a fresh, modern and dance-oriented take on a classic holiday story. Running at John Hancock Hall for six performances Dec. 14 through 22, the production features everything from flamenco dance and hip-hop to projection art and engaging narration.

Jenny Oliver, a Boston area professional dancer who also runs the activist dance collective Modern Connections, has been involved in the production for four years. For several of those years she’s been playing Mrs. Cratchit, a role based in modern dance.

Emily Cratchit with The Cratchit Kids. PHOTO: MELINDA MERCHANT

Emily Cratchit with The Cratchit Kids. PHOTO: MELINDA MERCHANT

“‘What the Dickens!’ takes the classic story of Scrooge and presents it in a very contemporary fashion using all different genres of dance. It also creates an opportunity for an intergenerational cast to work together,” says Oliver. “I love working with young people. With youth, I think it’s sometimes that one experience that we have with art that sparks us to have a lifelong journey.”

The show features original choreography by David Drummond and other choreographic contributors including Ryan Casey, Mariano Figuero, Khalid Hill, Celia Marino, Deborah Mason, Corinne Mason, Jenny Oliver, Jeryl Palana Pilapil, Ruka White and Leslie Woodies. Oliver says the choreography is tweaked every year, which keeps the show fresh and engaging for both the performers and the audience members.

The inspiration for the show, “A Christmas Carol,” by Charles Dickens, follows a bitter old man named Scrooge who hates the holiday season. As he is reminded of his past, present and future experiences, Scrooge realizes the importance of human kindness and generosity. Oliver says this message is more important than ever. “Kindness is really the ultimate healing tool that we need for each other,” she says. “This story really takes you on that journey.”

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The Cambridge Youth Dance Company focuses on providing young dancers with a variety of performance opportunities and instilling in them the values of creativity, teamwork and self-esteem, areas often neglected in a competitive industry. “What the Dickens!” offers an opportunity for aspiring dancers to share the stage with professionals. And all of these dancers, young and old, come from different backgrounds and experiences.

“To be able to have an intergenerational, multi-racial cast on stage is one of the most important things to see in art right now,” says Oliver. “Art can be a little bit silo-ed, a little bit exclusionary, and I think it’s revolutionary to be able to have us all on the stage at the same time.”

Learn more about Cambridge Youth Dance Company: www.cydp.org

Learn more about Modern Connections: www.modernconnectionscollective.com

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