Yulia looks back on Scottish Ballet’s winter production and compares it with other adaptations of The Snow Queen.
As an adult it’s sometimes hard to embrace the so-called “Christmas Spirit” extolled by poets and fairy-tellers (and even more so, merchandisers). Magic gets lost somewhere on the way, with celebration disproportionately consumed by preparation.
In contrast, The Snow Queen, from Scottish Ballet, was an enchanting treat. It brought back childhood memories of adventure, and its creative and daring nature meant the dances and costumes stayed with me even after the curtain went down. As the designer Lez Brotherston puts it: “Design isn’t about designing a red dress, design is about knowing that a red dress is needed.” Clothes tell the story just as much as the characters.
The ballet is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same name, but what’s unique about this adaptation – directed by Christopher Hampson – is its celebration of family. Similarly to Frozen (2013), which took after Andersen’s fairytale, the ballet began with two sisters fighting, as one attempts to flee their lonely kingdom in pursuit of love, envisioned by a magical mirror. Meanwhile, Kai and Gerda are a lovey-dovey couple planning to marry. Alas, the run-away Summer Princess also has her eye on Kai who turns out to be the foretold lover in the mirror. Two relationships – the Snow Queen and the Summer Princess versus Kai and Gerda – run parallel to each other. Kai and the Summer Princess abandon their loved ones and chase after temptations, while the Snow Queen and Gerda share unconditioned love for the two, albeit using very different means to bring them back.
But what makes it special? It’s not only about what’s visible to the eye. As the orchestra performs Rimsky-Korsakov they produce a Russian level of emotional intensity, nonetheless unchained by a Scottish wild will of freedom in every move. Indeed, whenever Gerda’s journey or the Snow Queen’s plot advance, each scene conveys the spirit of the human world – bright, and yet also vulnerable to the dark fantasy realm that twists it with spells and freezes its breath.
Regrettably, this adaptation is somewhat lacking in depth. While the dancing, acting, music and design are stunning, these efforts are almost in vain without something to root for. The ballet may have been timed to perfection, but it needed to revisit more strongly the message it is trying to convey.
For comparison, in the 1957 Soviet cartoon, the Snow Queen also jinxes Kai, but not into seeing all things beautiful as ugly (in this show), but believing that a world without emotions like pain and joy is his ideal world. That moral is far more intriguing.