The Snow Queen

Adaptation and choreography by Christopher Hampson, music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov
Scottish Ballet
Edinburgh Festival Theatre

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Principals Constance Devernay-Laurence and Jerome Anthony Barnes in The Snow Queen Credit: Andy Ross
Scottish Ballet dancers during the travelling circus scene in The Snow Queen Credit: Andy Ross
Principal Jerome Anthony Barnes and Soloist Roseanna Leney in The Snow Queen Credit: Andy Ross

Christopher Hampson's The Snow Queen first swept through the winter season in 2019 as part of Scottish Ballet's 50th anniversary year. That wintery precipice just before the world was plunged into strange and different uncertainty feels like a time removed, and because of this, the choice to revisit The Snow Queen is both comforting and eye-opening.

It's also important to note that Hampson has reworked and revised some aspects of the piece, tweaking and moulding it in a way that aids clarity, but also better suits the world as it is, and perhaps how it could be.

The tale, as before, is taken from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, following the tested love of young couple, Gerda and Kai, performed by Roseanna Leney and Jerome Barnes respectively, who, upon the night of their engagement, are caught in the jealous games of the strange seasonal deities: the Snow Queen and her sister the Summer Princess.

Kai is pierced by a fragment of magical mirror and becomes a thrall of the Snow Queen, while Gerda must follow and convince the Summer Princess to help win back her love and break the icy spell. The story whisks the audience from the magical Ice Palace to the bustle of a busy town square, and then to the Traveller's camp, and finally through the frozen tundra back to the Snow Queen's palace.

But while the previous incarnation of the piece felt more traditional in many aspects, despite the sisterly deviation from the original text, the 2022 ballet manages to simply and efficiently draw more humanity and empathy from the inscrutable Gods than before by turning the Queen's fleeting distraction with Kai into a gradual melting of her icy heart, and a forgiving and warmer finale that thematically fits a more upbeat and festive attitude, in keeping with the rest of the tone.

This is in large part down to some fine work from Constance Devernay-Laurence as the Snow Queen, who by now has become so synonymous with this role across various Scottish Ballet productions that it's difficult to imagine anyone else in it. This evolution of the role feels more of a piece with her kinder and more playful iteration in The Nutcracker, with a hint of a steely gaze of The Secret Theatre. There was also a great deal of nuance in the part of Lexi, the alter-ego of the Summer Princess, as Alice Kawalek performed her sly thieving and reluctance to help Gerda with just enough expression to sell it and still make her late turn to good believable.

There is also just enough awkwardness in the playful hijinks and scolding between Kai and Gerda, with Barnes and Leney selling a romance that felt authentic enough to draw in the audience and sweet and simple enough to make their being torn from each other all the more compelling. Each also takes turns at points to perform solos that err a little on the long side, but still captivate with their prowess.

But the real meat of the ballet is in the warmth of the crowded stage; be it during the thronging Christmas squares of the town or the traveller's camp, Hampson's choreography keeps the company moving with a score of individual stories acting out all round. There's never a loose end amongst the dancers, and the vibrant thrumming of feet as the companies wheel and game around the stage is, as is the ballet as a whole, a delight from curtain up to final bow.

As it stands, revisiting this piece three years from its first tour, The Snow Queen still holds up as a festive and jolly spectacle, one that Scottish Ballet can be proud of yet again. The spark of joy that it manages to bring feels even more suffused with the Christmas spirit and is a fine tonic with which to ward off the long chill nights, with a tale of warmth and love winning over the bitter cold.

Reviewer: Graeme Strachan