Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen,
**** (4 stars)
Scottish Ballet’s Christopher Hanson has taken the Hans Christian Andersen story about a little boy Kay who is rescued from the clutches of the heartless Snow Queen by his friend Gerda and created a full-length ballet which mixes elements of the Andersen story with inventions of his own to create something one might be forgiven for thinking of as Frozen Gone Wrong.
The white-haired Snow Queen has a dark-haired sister, the Summer Princess. Together they see in the Queen’s magic mirror the image of a young man, whom the Princess instantly decides must be her true love: despite the Queen’s disapproval she rushes off to find him, disguising herself on the way as Lexi, a young pickpocket. Lexi arrives in the town where the young man – Kai – lives, only to see him propose to his sweetheart, Gerda, and give her a diamond ring. Suddenly time stops as the Snow Queen appears and casts a spell on Kai: he ignores Gerda and shows more interest in the circus which has just arrived in town.
Kai volunteers to take part in the circus’s magic disappearing trick but when it’s time for him to reappear he’s really vanished – the Snow Queen has frozen time again and stolen him away. Gerda is distraught, and begs Lexi to help her find Kai – reluctantly ‘he’ agrees, but only when Gerda has been forced to pay ‘him’ with her engagement ring. On their journey they encounter a bandit camp where a fortune teller tells them Kai is in the Snow Queen’s palace. Gerda goes on alone, encountering wolves, dancing snowflakes and frost-men who try unsuccessfully to stop her. She tries to rescue Kai, but he is obsessed with the Queen and ignores her. Gerda is powerless against the Queen: suddenly Lexi appears in her true guise and fights and defeats her sister. Kai seems dead, but Gerda’s tears melt the ice in his heart and the two lovers are reunited.
It’s a fascinating story, generally well-told, though I do wish I were more familiar with ballet gestures: there were one or two which were obviously extremely important, but which to me could have meant just about anything… Most of the narrative was clear and well-told, but the final ‘battle’ between the sisters was underwhelming in the extreme and the dénouement brought a ripple of giggles to the house which seems to indicate a little reworking is needed.
Rimsky-Korsakov’s music has been arranged by Richard Honner to provide a good ballet score, though on occasion I was slightly distracted by hearing something I recognised but generally couldn’t place: the exception being the Flight of the Bumblebee… The Scottish Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Jean-Claude Picard created some magical sound-pictures, with lively contrasts between the icy stillness of the Queen’s palace and the frosty aggression of her servants, the earthy realism of the town in which Kai and Gerda live, the rambunctious showmanship of the circus folk and the dramatic swagger of the bandits. Special mention must be made of on-stage gypsy violinist Gillian Risi who was unfazed by the extremely lively dancing going on all around her.
The dancing was full of contrasts with some outstanding passages. Kai and Gerda’s initial perfectly-synchronised duet reappeared, but with the two lovers now out of harmony with each other: Kai perfunctorily dancing with Gerda but being continually distracted first by the circus folk and then by the Snow Queen. The circus performers were impressive: I loved the Ring Master’s exuberant showmanship, the effortless way the Strong Man could pick up the Ballerina and the casual naughtiness of the Clowns. The bandits and their leader Zac leaped and danced joyfully and most impressively and even managed to entice timid Gerda to join them at times. I was less impressed by the ‘snow ballet’ which was a bit too ‘old school’ for my taste, and didn’t really do much to advance the story.
Sadly, I wasn’t taken with the Snow Queen herself – she danced most impressively but didn’t make me warm to her at all: there were hints that her heartlessness arose from her sister’s abandonment of her, but it didn’t convince me. Her sister was perhaps warmer and more impulsive but ultimately equally self-absorbed in going off after her man: no trace of the sisterly affection between Elsa and Anna here! Gerda was forced out of her small-town complacency [grow up, get married, have kids, die] and set off to rescue someone she loved, finding a previously unknown strength and resilience on the way; while Kai loved Gerda, was bewitched and forgot her, got rescued, and hopefully was a better and wiser man thereafter.
The audience obviously knew and loved their ballet, and were generous in their applause throughout. The Snow Queen is a delightful winter-time entertainment, with something to please, amuse, and entertain people of all ages: it’s a welcome change from the usual fare on offer at this season.
Scottish Ballet,The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, run ends 29th Dec, for tickets go to: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-snow-queen