Scottish Ballet: The Snow Queen

A wintry tale of fire and ice where selfless love wins, The Snow Queen, choreographed by Christopher Hampson, is a dangerous journey encountering bandits and snow creatures. At the centre is the magnificent but cruel Snow Queen herself, imperiously performed by the superb Constance Devernay, the star of the show. It is the second ballet created to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary year, a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen with elements from Disney’s animation Frozen.

Bandits are strikingly colourful.. snowflakes airily danced, whilst wolves scarily pounced.

The prologue, seen through a jagged peephole, are two sisters - the Snow Queen and her sister, the Summer Queen (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo), quarrelling over what they see in a magic mirror: Kai, who in this version is Gerda’s fiancé, not her little brother, the advantages being two sets of love triangles and great opportunities for love duets. Gerda (a pleasing performance by Bethany Kingsley-Garner) is by turns plaintive and begging, then later fierce. Kai (Andrew Peasgood) demonstrates strong dancing, and an impressive range of emotion, from cold to fawning.

Stunning visual effects such as the mirror breaking into splinters, which spin and transform into the next scene and the atmospheric sets designed by Lez Brotherston are part of the wonder of the show, and the pièce de résistance, the mirror-faceted Snow Queen’s castle, all stalagmites and flashing reflections. Fantastic costumes of circus performers, bandits strikingly colourful in contrast to the snow creatures in frosty glitter or white fur: snowflakes airily danced, whilst wolves scarily pounced in life-like heads and torsos and stylized Jack Frosts have eerie, backward-slanting hair.

After a slow start to Act One, luckily, but far too late, we are treated to the lively characters of a circus show, in particular the Ring-Master, a masterful Bruno Micchiqardi blowing his horn, the tattooed Strong-Man Evan Loudon, flexing his muscles and his partner Alice Kawalek, both eye-catching performances.

Fast forward to the brilliant Second Act where Gerda sets off on her search for Kai and drama and action fuse: swirling dances by the gypsy bandits, with splendid machismo by the Bandit leader (Jerome Barnes) and drama by Mazelda, a fortune teller (Grace Horler), against the background of gypsy caravans and a flaming fire, and the skin- tingling performance live on stage by solo violinist by Gillian Risi.

It is in the final scene in the castle that Christopher Hampson’s choreography shines most. A duet between Kai and the Snow Queen with expressively psychological details where she ignores Kai’s held out hand and instead grabs him from behind to demonstrate she is in control. In the subsequent lifts, her legs stick out like open scissors, symbolising rigidity and her frozen emotional state. Later there is a touching moment (also literally) in Kai and Gerda’s dance of reconciliation, pressing their palms together, a motif harking back to their innocent first meetings.

Sadly Hampson’s choreography is not always so effective in crowd scenes where action is unclear and dramatic focus gets forgotten. In particular, the wolves and Gerda are shown confusingly happily co-existing before and after an attack. Act One is frankly tedious scene-setting, with villagers wandering in and out and in such poor lighting it is impossible to see what is going on and to determine who the main characters are. And who on earth is the woman dressed as a boy in a green jacket and jaunty hat? If you have not read the synopsis first you will be as confused as I was, since I am guilty of believing a show should be clear from its own action. It might help to know that this character, Lexi, is the Summer Queen in disguise.

Apparently, the whole Summer Queen/aka Lexi v Snow Queen sub-plot is an attempt to win sympathy for the Snow Queen so that we see she has a vulnerable side but I’m afraid I just don’t buy this. Some may like this interpretation, but I, for one, want to see a cold and impregnable icy Snow Queen, or she loses her evil power. This sub-plot is also a distraction, creates a confusing plot and both Queens’ eventual demise is embarrassing, eliciting guffaws from the audience, surely not intended? This is not, after all, a panto.

I’m not sure I was totally won over by Kai as an adult since the story became one of a faithless lover’s head turned by a glamorous older woman: rather a cliché and lacking the frightening psychological depth of the original story of a boy with ice in his eye but then I’m just a critic with ice in her heart.

The score, an assembly by Richard Honner of little known opera by Rimsky-Korsakov only worked in places, terrific brass and shimmering strings but too often it was only meh and one can see why his operas got forgotten.

But despite these quibbles, there is so much gorgeousness in this production, the standard of the Scottish Ballet dancers so high, that I would hate to put you off going.

Reviews by Stephanie Green

Scottish Ballet

The Secret Theatre

★★★★
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★★★★
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Scottish Ballet: The Snow Queen

★★★★
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★★★★★
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★★★
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The Blurb

Scottish Ballet’s 50th anniversary year comes to a spectacular close with the world premiere of The Snow Queen. This glittering new production is inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved tale – which was also the basis for Frozen. It will be set to the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, performed live by the full Scottish Ballet Orchestra. 

From the bustle of a winter’s market to the shivers of a fairytale forest, take a journey to the Snow Queen’s palace, where you’ll find her surrounded by the icy fragments of an enchanted mirror. Along the way you’ll meet a colourful cast of characters, from young lovers parted by a spell to a circus ringmaster with a few tricks up his sleeve. Choreographed by Christopher Hampson and designed by the award-winning Lez Brotherston, this story of love and friendship is sure to delight the whole family. 

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