The Snow Queen marks the culmination in a string of events celebrating fifty years of the Scottish Ballet, and it did the job beautifully. The narrative is newly created in a collaboration between designer Lez Brotherston and director Christopher Hampson. Add to this the compelling score; tailored by Richard Honner, from over thirty works by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov including The Snow Maiden – and what’s delivered is an inspired new creation that feels distinctly fresh.
Like many, undoubtedly, I couldn’t recall the story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, other than the inspired Narnia depictions. Brotherston and Hampson wanted to take it back to the original telling, but with the addition of a prequel – and an explanation for why the Snow Queen is quite so mean. We open on the Summer Queen (Kayla-Maree Tarantolo) and Snow Queen (the stellar Constance Devernay), living in an isolated ice castle. The Summer Queen longs for change and asks to see her future in their enchanted mirror, which compels her to flee the castle and leave her sister there, alone.
Hampson loved the Robber Girl from the original telling, as she was ‘gutsy’ and ‘more of today’s world’ and so he remade her into the Summer Queen – yet another example of the progression Hampson is bringing to the world of ballet (he made some changes to make Hansel and Gretel more relevant too).
The story spans across two worlds and in the first act, the dancers are dressed in early 20th Century clothing, in a city which could be Edinburgh or Glasgow. It felt refreshing, but it did leave me longing for the traditional sweeping backdrops and synchronised, flowing ensemble dances. Cue the second act – the stage design and exquisite costumes completely transport us to an ethereal winter wonderland where wolves and Jack Frost run rampant at the bidding of the Snow Queen.
The choreography between the two lovers, Gerda (Bethany Kingsley-Garner) and Kai (Andrew Peasgood) is poetic, and it contrasts sharply against the devious movements of the two sisters as they manipulate the couple to their own intentions. The score flows seamlessly, not a stich in sight, but it lacked the emotional punch we come to expect from such a production.
The original story comprises eight somewhat nebulous short stories, and although Hampson has done well indeed to adapt them to this final production, a little more imagination and a cleaner narrative arc would have made it sing. The sub-plot contrived to encourage empathy for The Snow Queen didn’t quite feel necessary and the set-up took over most of the first act, being delivered a little aimlessly, it has to be said.
There is much to enjoy here: fresh eyes on an old tale, stunning backdrops (a glowing moon, forest silhouette, shimmering trees and real fire) and a colossally talented company of dancers in glittering finery. The Scottish ballet are keen pioneers of progress and there is no doubt that The Snow Queen is certainly a step in the right direction.
Photo courtesy of Andy Ross
The Snow Queen runs until 29th December at Festival Theatre, Edinburgh