Choreography: Christopher Hampson
Design: Lez Brotherston
Music: Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Reworking the timeless tale by Hans Christian Anderson, no doubt borrowing from Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story, Scottish Ballet continues into the closure of its 50th anniversary with The Snow Queen. In this version, the deviating story merges aspects of the seven shorter parables into one another, with the Summer Princess taking on aspects of the little robber girl, and Gerda and Kai growing in age and becoming lovers, rather than friends/siblings.
Thawing, there isn’t quite the bitter pang of emotion which ought to be present. Compiling a trio of narratives, that of a travelling circus, a fortune teller and The Snow Queen’s narrative itself, the dance seems to fall into a secondary stance in pursuit of a story which is never fully realised. Rather than telling the story of an all-powerful Queen, with an enchanted mirror which shatters, casting a tiny fragment into a young boy’s eye and freezing his heart, becomes an irregular mingle of relationships, which attempts to focus on too many connections, straining each one.
Ferocious, Marge Hendrick has a conviction as the Snow Queen, transitioning from rationale, cold and methodical in movement, to a more flirtatious, open posture with icicle-like precision in where her footwork. Hendrick is a marvel when given the opportunity, but again, The Snow Queen herself has fleeting moments where the character feels out of place in her narrative. She is neither victim nor villain, hinderance or redeemer. Yet, her place at Anderson’s subversive narrative of sexual repression and risqué judgements, Hendrick’s ‘awakening’ of Kai all hints as a profounder ballet. In the final moments however, clumsily grasping at her sister’s embrace/assault (we’re not sure which), The Snow Queen ends, not with glacial purity, but with a thawing frost.
Framing The Snow Queen with a jagged effect, it’s a creative concept which fails in one significant regard. As the Snow Queen and Summer Princess quarrel and peek into the human world, this splintering at the base of the stage obstructs their feet. Perhaps a personal qualm, an inability to see our principal’s footwork is an obscure choice in staging. Otherwise, Lez Brotherston’s design work for the production is sumptuous, conveying a frozen sense of time and framing the productions most exquisite scenes.
Picturesque, this band of performers, many who have previously played circus workers in the first act, get a firmer root in the gypsy clan. Scottish Ballet melds a contemporary feel, with hints of eastern European folk, combining crowd numbers and earthier movements than one would associate with Ballet. Fortune Teller Roseanna Leney has a firmer command with her brief time of stage than sadly some of our principal dancers can manifest. Her character’s richness, strutting in front of the naked branches of winter, with the regal purple sky hanging above – it’s an entirely perfect scene which echoes what could have been a flawless production.
Between the blossoming romances, the sibling squabbles and the spectacle of the circus, Scottish Ballet attempt a blizzard of emotions, but sadly the forecast ends with a flurry of confusion. Motivations cloud character interactions, and we’re never fully understanding of any. Offering brief snippets of genius, hidden in the flurry of snowflakes, Paulley’s ‘thief girl’ is mingled effortlessly into the choreography as she pirouettes around her victims. Hampson compliments the lightness of a thief, with the pointe of a dancer.
With staggering costumes, particularly make-up effects conjuring Frost Sprites, Wolves and Jack Frost’s into being, The Snow Queen does achieve a sense of wonder. In no small part due to Richard Honner’s arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s original score. As usual, the orchestra stands firmly level with the quality of the troupe, but this time, it outshines the movement on stage as the music, the imagery and colours steal attention away from the dancers.
As a storytelling vehicle, The Snow Queen leaves those with folklore in their blood with confusion. In trying to capture the imaginations of many, the ice is spread thinly across the board. Christopher Hampson’s choreography fails to reach the lofty heights anticipated but does still showcase the immense skill of Scottish Ballet. In seeking to position the stories of three leading ladies, The Snow Queen is unsure of how to balance these women and sadly, all three find themselves on thin ice.
Runs until 29 December 2019 | Image: Andy Ross