Choreography by Christopher Hampson
Composition by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
In the intrusive darkness, something magical glitters in the Festival Theatre stage light. Amidst the protrusions of silhouetted ice, a familiar being stirs triumphantly again after a three-year slumber away from the stage. Scottish Ballet makes a grand return to the Christmas season, with an audience delight that captures the majesty it always held, but with a finer finesse.
Augmented, deepened, and with a fresh understanding of its storytelling mechanics that transcend the movement and carry it to new heights. Where the last snowflake would melt away to the coming warmth, this revised iteration of The Snow Queen is stronger, and more robust, but equally as beautiful as its first flurry which will see the show carry through the harshness of Winter into the Spring and into the hearts of audiences.
But those returning to the seasonal highlight at the Festival Theatre need not fear: fundamentals remain intact as the performance follows the previously laid tracks in the snow but takes a moment to appreciate the surrounding beauty. Paul Pyant’s vivid, and rich command of colour remains throughout, their lighting design continuing to elevate Lez Brotherson OBE’s spectacular set dressings – which skirt the boundaries of an illustrative fairy-tale book, ready to turn and reveal a world of delights. But of all the constants, one aspect remains – The Snow Queen herself.
To remark upon principal Constance Devernay-Laurence’s return to the titular role as anything other than precise perfection would be a disservice. There’s little doubt that Scottish Ballet’s process was moulded from those first flitters of snowfall to the sculptured piece it is now with Devernay-Laurence’s influence in mind.
On icicle pointes, often gliding with aid of Snow Wolves Thomas Edwards and Yuri Marques, Devernay-Laurence’s impact is persistent, and an immediate draw of focus for the audience. With accentuated facial expressions to compliment her movements, where the previous incarnation of the Queen possessed bitterness and resentment, Hamspon’s retelling homes in on the sisterly aspect, the redemption.
The alterations to the story may seem small to some, but the thought process behind them has had a tremendous impact both on and off stage. The recognition of shortcomings and the evolution of sensitivity is to be congratulated in its brunt honesty and openness by the Scottish Ballet’s Artistic Director, and Snow Queen’s Choreographer, Christopher Hampson. The choices retain the clout the show always possessed, but instil a more nuanced manner of emotional representation of community, sisterhood, and love.
For those who watched Scottish Ballet’s lockdown piece, The Secret Theatre (read our ***** review), the foundations of this broadening canvas of opinion and understanding flourished into the guidance which aided Hampson to evolve The Snow Queen. Once the more problematic, and lengthy sequences, are now a shining glory: The Traveller campfire is a delight. It captures a warmth otherwise vacant amidst the splendour of ice and frost, a sense of community with the intensity and comfort of movement.
Introducing Mazelda, a fortune teller, earlier into this iteration of the show smooths out the transitional pieces, enabling Grace Holder a wealth of opportunity to provide dimension to the role, their more playful movements offset by the stern control she holds amongst the circus and travelling community. In tandem with her dance partner, the Ringmaster, Rimbaud Patron, the pair offer a slice of a grander story and demonstrate aspects of Hampson’s willingness, and adept ability to learn and build upon storytelling.
The focus on the production’s longevity and storytelling also offers a degree more agency to the role of Gerda, performed by Roseanna Leney, as they take a sense of autonomy in ‘defeating’ the Snow Queen to reclaim their lost love Kai (Jerome Barnes). Her intensity is tangible throughout, a determination matched by Alice Kawalek’s (slightly trimmed down presence) Summer Princess, the pair almost mirror one another. Strong-willed and in movement-sharing sequences with Barnes in their meticulous lifts and flourishes, but both capture their characters well, standing out from the very visual set-pieces.
The slimmed-down structure means that the composition of the ballet becomes a veritable collection of Rimsky Korsakov’s greatest, and one of the few knockbacks from the more concise structure of the show. But perhaps merely a remark on the quality of the Scottish Ballet orchestra, that the audience hungers for more of their pitch-perfect synchronicity with the command of Jean-Claude Picard’s conduction. And an extra piece of praise to be given to onstage musician Gillian Rissi.
Previously lost in a blizzard of pacing and ambition, The Snow Queen returns with an illustrious force, shaving away the weakness, and channelling an understanding and crystalline beauty of dance, and vitally, storytelling. Where the tale of anger and repression once sought to shatter, Scottish Ballet now forge dreams for new audiences, whilst welcoming old family.
An Illustrious Force
The Snow Queen runs at the Festival Theatre until December 10th.
Tickets for which may be obtained here.
Photo Credit – Andy Ross