Friday, 30 March 2018

Chelmsford's Dazzling Snow Queen

Lucy Abbott and Scarlett Mann as the Snow Queen's Wolves
Author Andrew Potter
Copyright 2017 Chelmsford Ballet Company - all rights reserved
Reproduction licensed by kind permission of the company

Chelmsford Ballet Company Snow Queen The Civic Theatre, Chelmsford, 24 March 2018, 19:30

I have been coming to Essex to see the Chelmsford Ballet Company's annual show since 2014. All the shows I have seen have been good but every show that I have seen since 2015 has been better than the last.  When I reviewed Alice's Adventures last year in An Adventure Indeed 26 March 2017 I wrote:
"Every show has been excellent but Alice's Adventures which I saw last night was by far the best."
Well, this year the show was even better than ever.

Not only that but it was in a different class. The company presented a production that would have been a credit to any professional company with original choreography, elaborate sets, lavish costumes and beautiful dancing as well as an efficient and welcoming front of house team. Every aspect of the production was impressive right down to the design and content of the programme. Even more remarkably. the members of that company did it at least largely (and probably entirely) by themselves.

I am a non-dancing associate member of Chelmsford Ballet Company and, even though I had no part in it, I am enormously proud of that production and everyone who contributed to it. Most of all, I am proud to be associated with an institution that has contributed much to the cultural and social life of Chelmsford and Essex for nearly 70 years.

The ballet to which I refer was The Snow Queen.  It was created by Annette Potter, the company's artistic director.  The libretto followed Hans Christian Andersen's story closely which meant that there were lots of scenes with plenty of roles for dancers of all ages and all levels of experience.  Her music was selected from Glazunov's 4th and 5th Symphonies and The SeasonsThe choice of those pieces was inspired for they fitted the story beautifully.

The central characters in the ballet are Kai ("Kay" in this production) and Gerda.  Kay was danced by James Parratt who had impressed me in Chris Marney's War Letters when he was still a student (see
Images of War: Ballet Central's "War Letters" and other Works 29 April 2016. He impressed me again last Saturday with his portrayal of a troubled and distracted young man. In the story he is charmed by the wicked snow queen but I saw something more in his performance. It was a study of personality change, a condition that caused him to turn against Gerda and withdraw from his community.

He was led back by the faithful Gerda whose role was danced delightfully by Georgia Olley. This was the first time that I had noticed Olley and I hope that it will not be the last for she is very talented. She does not appear to be a guest artist so she must be a dancing member of the company living in or within commuting distance of Chelmsford. I forgot to ask where she trained and whether she has ambitions to dance professionally but I would be in the least surprised if she does.  She can dance and she can act.  She deserved the loud applause that she received when she took her curtain call.

The other principal character was the snow queen danced splendidly by Samantha Ellis. She seems to get all the regal roles for she was the queen and schoolmistress in Alice's Adventures.  She was attended by two wolves whose costumes were magnificent. Lez Brotherston could not have done better. They looked so lifelike that I would have forgotten that they were human not lupine had it not been for their pointe shoes. Their roles were performed by two of the company's most experienced and able dancers, Lucy Abbott and Scarlett Mann, who had delighted audiences as the lilac fairy and Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty two years ago.

One performer who wins everyone's hears is every production is the company's chairperson, Marion Pettet. If anyone asked me what is meant by stage presence I would send that person to Chelmsford for Pettet has it in spades. She has enchanted me every time I have seen her whether as Mrs Stahlbaum, Britannia, Carabosse or in the prologue in Alice. She was Gerda's grandmother last Saturday, a role that she performed with her usual flair.

There was another grandmother in the ballet who could easily have been eclipsed by Pettet but wasn't. Debbie Snell was Kay's granny and she was impressive too. So, too, was Andrew Potter, another fine dancer who opened the show as the head troll. Potter took the picture of the wolves above. A talented artist in at least two art forms.  Other soloists who delighted me were Olivia Riley as the first river nymph, Stacey Byrne as the woman who knew magic, Holly Scanlan as the crow, Darci Wilsher as the reindeer and James Fletcher (another guest artist) as the Laplander who rescued and revived Gerda.  Everyone in the cast - trolls, ice maidens, villagers, nymphs and gypsies - danced well.

I lost count of the number of scenes - the trolls' workshop, the square in Kay and Gerda's home town, Gerda's grandmother's home. the snow queen's castle, the river where Gerda rested, Lapland - maybe more. Each had elaborate scenery lovingly painted and constructed.  Every detail from the Romanesque arches of the trolls' workshop to the houses in the street and the turrets of the snow queen's castle was a work of art. Perhaps the masterpiece was the snow queen's sleigh. Those who designed, painted and constructed those backcloths and properties deserve special congratulations.

So too, does, Ann Starling, the costume design and wardrobe manager. I have already commended her wolves but all the costumes were great, particularly the snow queen's robes and head dress and the outfits for the crow and reindeer.  Gerda wore the prettiest dirndl. Everybody had fun costumes to wear

Next year marks the company's 70th anniversary and they will celebrate it with a new production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by Annette Potter.  I can barely contain my excitement. But there are plenty of things to do before then including a special workshop for dancing members with our patron Chris Marney and Ballet Central on 22 April 2018 (see What's coming up on the company's website). I urge my readers, particularly those in South East England, to check them out.

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