Saturday, 7 March 2020

Hampson's Masterpiece: The Snow Queen

Standard YouTube Licence

Scottish Ballet The Snow Queen Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 11 Jan 2020

I have been following the company now known as Scottish Ballet for nearly 60 years. The first ballet of theirs I can remember is Peter Darrell's Mods and Rockers which was quite unlike any ballet that I had ever seen before. It has staged some great works since such as Darrell's version of The Nutcracker, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa A Streetcar Named Desire, Christopher Hampson's Cinderella and David Dawson's Swan Lake. However, as I tweeted immediately after seeing the show, The Snow Queen is its creator's best work yet and one of the company's best ever,
The ballet is based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's tale. Hampson inserts a prologue to explain the Snow Queen's meanness. That is permissible just as the spurning of her stepsister's flowers in Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella is permissible to explain the girls' dislike of Cinderella.   The score is an arrangement of Rimsky Korsakov by Richard Honner. The designs which were breathtaking were created by Lez Brotherson. A work by Brotherson, Hampson and Honner could hardly fail and I had high hopes for it but it exceeded my expectations greatly.

Hampson's libretto creates three big female roles as well as some interesting supporting ones.  There is the Snow Queen herself who features strongly at the start and end.  Her sister is the Summer Princess.  While the siblings live together, all is harmony but when the Summer Princess sets off to explore the world the personality of the Snow Queen changes.  She becomes disorientated, resentful and vindictive.  Her sister disguises herself and calls herself Lexi as she scours the world for Kai.  Her rival for his affection is Gerda.  Kai is the lead male role but there are also solo roles for the men such as the ringmaster, strong man, clowns and bandit leader as well as bandits and townsfolk for male members of the corps. 

The Snow Queen was danced by guest artist, Katlyn Addison, a first soloist with the American Ballet West which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah and not to be confused with the school and company of the same name at Taynuilt in Argyll.  The Summer Princess or Lexi was danced by Grace Horler. and Gerda by Araminta Wraith.  Horler and Wraith I had seen before and were already favourites of mine. Particularly Wraith who had impressed me in character roles such as Cinderella's stepmother and Hansel and Gretel's mum as well as for her classical technique in what I think must have been The Nutcracker not too long after she had joined the company.  This was the first time I had seen Addison and I sincerely hope it will not be the last.  I have made a mental note to include Salt Lake City in my itinerary for a future holiday in America. 

Kai was danced by Evan Loudon who first impressed me in the Emergence and MC 14/22 double bill at Sadler's Wells in 2017.  Kai is a complex character combining the most attractive masculine attributes with the most infuriating.  An accomplished dance actor, Loudon discharged that role with flair.  Other dancers I noted immediately after the performance include Nicolas Shoesmith who was the ringmaster and Rimbaud Patron as the bandit leader.  All danced well and all are to be congratulated.   So, too, are the orchestra and their conductor Jean-Claude Picard. 

 The Scots have an onomatopoeic adjective for miserable weather - dreichThe evening of 11 Jan was as dreich a night in Glasgow as ever there could be.  The thunderous applause from an audience that had already been drenched to the skin and chilled to the bone says it all.

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