Magic, glitter, snowflake fairies, Jack Frosts, snow wolves and innocent love winning out, what more could you want? Circus acts, Romani travellers? A revival of its 2019 production, Scottish Ballet’s
A magnificent outing for any ballet-lover
Christopher Hampson’s claim that he has enhanced the choreography and that the story-telling is clearer is indeed borne out. It helps that better lighting means one can see what is going on in the crowd scenes and otherwise confusing sub-plot. For this is not Hans Christian Anderson alone, but Hampson’s additional story-line concerning the love/rivalry of the Snow Queen and her sister the Summer Princess, allegedly to give the Snow Queen a more sympathetic backstory. The pair are shown quarrelling over an image of Kai in a magic mirror.The Summer Princess runs away holding a green jacket and trews over her arm so we know she is the cheeky urchin, Lexi (Alice Kawalek) with light fingers, threading between the various crowd scenes that follow as she searches for Kai.
Personally, this critic preferred an evil queen as in the original story but in any case here the Snow Queen (a superb Constance Devernay-Lawrence) often accompanied by creeping dry ice and scary snow wolves, came over as evil throughout, apart from the beginning quarrel and cobbled on reconciliation which hardly registered. In this version, Kai is no longer Gerda’s brother but financé, and the Snow Queen and his relationship is one of seduction and this certainly led to beautiful pas de deux, extended versions of the 2019 choreography. The Snow Queen's spiky moves, often involving bourrées, suggest a brittle nature which then give way in her seduction duets to more expansive moves with the couple literally swept away: the Queen’s scissor-like legs, and some heart-stopping lifts with the Queen held upside down. The contrast with Kai (Jerome Barnes) and Gerda (Roseanna Leney)’s choreography is brilliant, the young pair so innocent and delicate, both dancers sympathetic and vulnerable but later evolving into impressive steeliness.
But that is to jump ahead. First, Lexi and Gerda in their search for Kai have many adventurous encounters: the lively, colourful costumes and characterful choreography of the circus acts, particularly the ringmaster (Rimbaud Patron) blowing his trumpet with sweeping moves, the superbly tattooed Strong Man (Ben Thomas) and partner (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo). Next is a traveller encampment, atmospherically lit by moonlight and flickering fires in a dark forest and a great excuse for the ensemble to perform Romani-syle dances, the star being Mazelda (Grace Horler) the fortune-teller. The highlight is Gillian Rissi, as previously, playing the fiddle.
In the second act, the icy terrain of the Snow Queen involves Gerda’s encounter with Jack Frosts and snow wolves in striking masks. But oh dear, what happened to the snow wolves’ dance, one of the highlights of the 2019 production? What a shame it has been cut. Admittedly, its mixture of friendliness and aggression from the wolves was confusing but that could have been sorted. Please bring back the snow wolves if there’s a future production.
The 2019 set and costumes are used and could not be bettered. Designed by Lez Brotherson, the contrast of cold glitter (though a stunning red splash inside the Snow Queen’s cloak) with colourful circus and Romani costumes, and the imaginative sets, silhouettes of the Edinburgh skyline - a nice touch that), forests represented with imaginative graphics and later ice shards for the snowy queendom are all superb. Look out for a weird green light (designer Paul Pyant) in the snowy scenes which dancers danced in and out of. A pity the Rimsky-Korsakov score is underwelming.
Audiences will be divided on whether the sub-plot of the two sisters really works but it’s a magnificent outing for any ballet-lover and going by the ecstatic glittered faces of the small children queuing up to have their photos taken by the silver/blue Christmas Tree in the bar area, it will be a memorable Christmas experience.