The Snow Queen

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

five stars

Scottish Ballet’s Christmas present to us all is the world premiere of a Snow Queen that finds the darkness and light in an age-old fairy-tale, while reminding us of how love can be a force for good... or, sometimes, for ill.

Is it love – or possessiveness – that makes the Snow Queen cling onto her sister, the Summer Princess (aka Lexi)? Is Gerda’s love for Kai brave or foolish? He has, after all, succumbed to the Snow Queen and apparently forgotten his mortal fiancée. Can Lexi – torn between love and loyalty – be trusted? Do mirrors tell the truth?

Choreographer Christopher Hampson and designer Lez Brotherston have – with real collaborative flair – used these dramatic narrative strands to create a fast-moving ‘travelogue’ across contrasting worlds and vividly different styles. There’s a workaday drabness to the early 20th century town where Kai (Andrew Peasgood) and Gerda (Bethany Kingsley-Garner) live. No wonder the circus has such an exotic appeal, costumes with echoes of Bakst splendours, choreography full of tricksy humour and strong-man prowess.

Until, like a chill in the air, the Snow Queen (Constance Devernay) slips in and, her hand on his heart, freezes Kai to her. When Gerda persuades Lexi (a mercurial Kayla-Maree Tarantolo) to help, the action moves to a fire-lit bandit camp where the Rimsky-Korsakov music, and Hampson’s Spanish-inflected choreography, marry superbly in an exuberant episode of feisty gypsy dance. Then on: into a forest, where Snowflakes, Snow Wolves and JackFrosts – distorted into a confusion of whirling bodies by reflective side panels – bedevil Gerda who nonetheless presses on. You do shiver for her!

Devernay’s Snow Queen is the epitome of icy command, her bravura duets with Peasgood a sharp contrast to the tender partnering between his Kai and Kingley-Garner’s Gerda. The bespoke Rimsky-Korsakov score – thrillingly played by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra – adds telling atmospheres, the company dances magnificently – this 50th anniversary year ends on a truly memorable high.