Christopher Hampson’s new Snow Queen for Scottish Ballet is a modern classical delight. It’s a take on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy-tale, which many of us don’t actually know in detail, but here honed and delivered with easy clarity. While the title and all the promotional imagery might scream this is about one character, the actual plot is much richer and come the end you realise it’s as much a love story as anything else. That’s about my only criticism really – the title throws you a bit of a dummy, but that hasn’t stopped Don Quixote or Coppelia from being terrifically successful ballets the world over, of course.
There are four main characters – the Snow Queen, her sister, the Summer Princess, who wants to leave the tight confines of the Ice Palace in search of love (and a new name – Lexi), Kai the one she seizes on, and Gerda, his actual true love. The Snow Queen uses her powers to own Kai (she turns his heart to ice) as a way of frustrating her sister’s infatuation, and the plot goes on to show how Lexi and Gerda fight to free him with a bittersweet ending as the Queen and Princess fight to a death and the young lovers are finally reunited. Along the way we have encounters with a circus, bandit encampments and a dangerous journey through an enchanted snowy forest – the stuff of all good ballet tales – and brought to magical life by Lez Brotherston’s gorgeous designs. There are some very smart scene changes and quality video projections as well – it’s a stunningly slick design package.
There is no standard music for The Snow Queen, and Hampson uses a selection of Rimsky-Korsakov tunes, neatly pulled together by Scottish Ballet’s Head of Music, Richard Honner. It provides both serious dark and shade, and even includes, delightfully unexpectedly, the “Flight of the Bumblebee” at one point! For new works much of what Scottish Ballet does choreographically is a very modern take on what ballet can be and Snow Queen is no different. But don’t think Mats Ek radical – this uses a very classical base that neither looks to Petipa for showy technical intricacies or strives for blockbuster pas de deux crammed with overt cleverness that can actually detract from the point of telling a story. No, Hampson has created a naturalistic and, above all, a graceful and harmonious set of steps. It’s all so unforced, but it feels right and creates a beautifully rounded and satisfying production.
The opening cast featured an imperious and spiteful Constance Devernay as the Queen and an all-too-human and worldly Kayla-Maree Tarantolo as the Princess; but I was most touched by Bethany Kingsley-Garner and Andrew Peasgood as the lovers – nobody seems to do good-natured strength quite like Kingsley-Garner and Peasgood as the good lad, taken over by events, is totally believable. The end of the ballet, with just them on stage, is beautifully simple and unaffected – like their dancing it comes from the heart. All up, Scottish’s new Snow Queen has an easy elegance built on strong dancing and storytelling foundations.