Mary Woodward Review

The Snow Queen, Scottish Ballet, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, Review:

“a most enjoyable evening”

**** (4 stars)

This is the second time I’ve seen Artistic Director Christopher Hampson’s ballet loosely based on a story by Hans Christian Anderson.  It’s been slightly changed in some respects since last I saw it, but in many respects it’s still very much the same in both its excellences and slight disappointments.

In the Anderson story, Kay and Gerda are children: the Snow Queen puts an icicle in Kay’s heart, and it’s Gerda’s tears which melt it and bring him back to life.  In the Scottish Ballet version, Kai and Gerda are grown-ups who are in love, while the Snow Queen has a sister, the Summer Princess – a bit like Frozen’s Elsa and Anna, the former is hard and prickly and the latter warm and impulsive.  The sisters quarrel and the younger one leaves the Winter Palace to find the handsome young man she’s seen in her sister’s enchanted mirror.

The Summer Princess is now the pickpocket Lexi, plying her trade in a busy town: she sees Kai and recognises the man from her sister’s mirror.  She is horrified when Kai proposes to Gerda, who joyfully accepts.  The Snow Queen appears and freezes time: she begs her sister to return to the Winter Palace with her, but she refuses.  A circus arrives in town and begins a dazzling display: during this the Snow Queen spirits Kai away, hoping that her sister will follow.

Lexi does follow, but not quite in the way the Snow Queen intended – to her surprise she finds herself helping Gerda to find her fiancé.  They arrive at a gypsy encampment, where a fortune teller reveals that Kai has been stolen by the Snow Queen.  Lexi tells Gerda she will never break the Snow Queen’s power but, undaunted by the terrors of the forest and attacks by Jack Frosts, Snowflakes, and Snow Wolves, Gerda finds her way to the Winter Palace.

In the palace, Kai fails to recognise his sweetheart and gives all his attention to the Snow Queen.  She is about to attack Gerda but is diverted by the arrival of Lexi, who has transformed back to the Summer Princess and means to stay with her sister.  The Snow Queen’s power is broken, Kai recognises Gerda, and the two lovers dance happily.

It’s a lovely show for the Christmas audience, with a lot of lively action, colourful costumes, and the gorgeous music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, brilliantly played by the orchestra of Scottish Ballet under Jean-Claude Picard.  There’s icy drama and glittering frostiness to contrast with the lively scenes in the town and the gypsy encampment.  There’s a lot of fantastic dancing with some incredible lifts which made me think of this year’s Strictly’s Hamza as he picks up Jowita and tosses her, spinning, into the air.  The scene in the gypsy encampment is particularly memorable, both for the flamboyant, exuberant dancing and the superb onstage violin solo from Gillian Rissi, who strolls among the gypsies as though she was born in the camp.

The slight disappointment I felt was twofold.  Firstly, being unskilled in the art of reading dancers’ ways of communicating, I easily grasped that Gerda was delighted to receive Kai’s proposal and happily showed her engagement ring to everyone, but was much less clear about most of the rest of the story line. 

Secondly, I remember that last time I saw The Snow Queen I found the confrontation between the two sisters rather too long and not very credible: this time it was over almost before it began – the two sisters briefly appeared side by side at the back of the palace [if you blinked, you would have missed it] and then Kai came back to life and he and Gerda danced happily [and for quite some time] till the curtain came down.

That apart, it was a most enjoyable evening.  Constance Devernay-Laurence was once again a scarily spiky and vengeful Snow Queen, while Alice Kawalek was a glowing Summer Princess and a very agile pickpocket.  Roseanna Leney was first a warm and loving, and later a steely, determined, Gerda – nothing was going to keep her from Kai, superbly danced by Jerome Barnes.  Rimbaud Patron was a splendidly athletic Ringmaster Zach, introducing his glittering troupe of artistes – Strong Man Evan Loudon easily lifting his Ballerina, Claire Souet, impossibly high above his head, while Acrobats Anna Williams and Rishan Benjamin and Clowns Jamie Reid and Aaron Venegas had incredible fun getting in everyone’s way and tangled up with each other.  Grace Horler’s Fortune Teller first appeared with the other circus performers and really came into her own in the gypsy encampment, as she and Zach led the other dancers in a succession of fiery and passionate explosions of joy – even Gerda forgot her sorrows for a while and joined in.

Supporting these dancers were the incredible Artists of the company – the supply of talent seems endless and their ability staggering.  Together they made an opening night that was a joyful, energetic, and thoroughly entertaining way to lift our spirits and enable us to face the long dark nights of winter.  The audience applauded loud and long, and went out happily into the dark streets of Edinburgh.

Scottish Ballet, The Snow Queen, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, runs until 10th December for tickets go to: Scottish Ballet’s The Snow Queen (capitaltheatres.com)

 The production will then visit  Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Newcastle.

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