A glorious Dickens adaptation

Oliver, performed by the Marlborough Dance Centre.

Floor Pride Marlborough Civic Theatre, Blenheim

Friday, November 30

Scores of young dancers bring the Charles Dickens story Oliver Twist to life on stage at the Floor Pride Marlborough Civic Theatre in Blenheim.

The Marlborough Dance Centre's end-of-year production opened for a four-show season on Friday night, and everyone in the two-hour show is a star. The 19th-century London story is told through dance, song, clever set design and what seems like hundreds of costumes.

Dance centre directors Robyn Simmons and Jeannie Mark have been helped by tutor Kelly Webster and four senior dancers, Gemma Adams, Jodie Hughes, Eliza Elkington and Nina McCollum, to choreograph routines that let students of all ages and abilities shine.

Ten-year-old Bella Rose grabs attention in the lead role, from the first scene. Looking suitably boyish, she appears with the other junior dancers, all dressed in either period-costume knickerbockers or pinafores, to portray children housed in an English orphanage. Its owners (Sophie Lee and Jessica Crosswell) are pouring scoops of gruel into small bowls and the children carry them away, singing a song from the musical, Food, Glorious Food.

The lyrics are continued by invisible choral voices when the children stop lip-synching and concentrate on their dance steps. But the important links have been formed between Dickens' story and the performers, and it is the dancing that everyone has come to see.

Dances to songs from the musical Oliver! are interspersed with routines set to contemporary music without losing any cohesion.

A main-character dancer who stood out for me is Harriet Lintern as Fagin, wearing a long, torn coat and an unkempt beard. She slips effortlessly between soft slippers for jazz and hip-hop dance, pointe for ballet, and Irish hard shoes and the rhythmic, percussive effects they create.

Jessica Single is a graceful Nancy, while the man she loves, the savage Bill Sikes, is ably represented by Eliza Elkington. Effective costume and playful dance moves by Aroha Weaver bring the Artful Dodger to life.

Younger dancers bring smiles, too, with their earnest wish to get things right.

On Friday, the dance Rolled Oats, performed by little girls in mushroom-shaped frocks, was punctuated several times by some of the dancers giving others a gentle tap and a smile, reminding them: "Over here, this is the way we go now . . ."

Oliver is a dance production to entertain the whole family, with music and movements to please all tastes. Its final show starts at 6.30pm tonight.

The Marlborough Express