The Snow Queen – Festival Theatre

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen

Choreography by Christopher Hampson

Design by Lez Brotherston

Music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

Reworking the timeless tale by Hans Christian Anderson, no doubt borrowing from Walt Disney’s adaptation of the story, Scottish Ballet continues into the closure of its 50th anniversary with The Snow Queen. In this version, the deviating story merges aspects of the seven shorter parables into one another, with the Summer Princess taking on aspects of the little robber girl, and Gerda and Kai growing in age and becoming lovers, rather than friends/siblings.

Thawing, there isn’t quite the bitter pang of emotion which ought to be present. Compiling a trio of narratives, that of a travelling circus, a fortune teller and The Snow Queen’s narrative itself, the dance seems to fall into a secondary stance in pursuit of a story which is never fully realised. Rather than telling the story of an all-powerful Queen, with an enchanted mirror which shatters, casting a tiny fragment into a young boy’s eye and freezing his heart, becomes an irregular mingle of relationships, which attempts to focus on too many connections, straining each one.

Absent from the original, the Summer Princess, who goes by Lexi is a noted inclusion, and at first, the sisterly relationship of the production offers inspiration, but the character feels flat. Nothing at fault of Grace Paulley, who conveys a lightness which captures her role well, rather Lexi’s motivation, when given a glimpse of a potential future with Kai, seems hollow. At first, we seem unsure of who to support, Gerda the lover of Kai, who seems frosty, or Lexi, a Princess who seeks a life outside of her sister’s cold embrace, when really, it should be Lexi and her sister’s relationship we focus on.

Ferocious, Constance Devernay has a conviction as the Snow Queen, transitioning from rationale, cold and methodical in movement, to a more flirtatious, open posture with icicle-like precision in where her footwork. Devernay is a marvel when given the opportunity, but again, The Snow Queen herself has fleeting moments where the character feels out of place in her narrative. She is neither victim nor villain, hinderance or redeemer. Yet, her place at Anderson’s subversive narrative of sexual repression and risqué judgements, Devernay’s ‘awakening’ of Kai all hints as a profounder ballet. In the final moments however, clumsily grasping at her sister’s embrace/assault (we’re not sure which), The Snow Queen ends, not with glacial purity, but with a thawing frost.

Framing The Snow Queen with a jagged effect, it’s a creative concept which fails in one significant regard. As the Snow Queen and Summer Princess quarrel and peek into the human world, this splintering at the base of the stage obstructs their feet. Perhaps a personal qualm, an inability to see our principal’s footwork is an obscure choice in staging. Otherwise, Lez Brotherston’s design work for the production is sumptuous, conveying a frozen sense of time and framing the productions most exquisite scenes.

Picturesque, this band of performers, many who have previously played circus workers in the first act, get a firmer root in the gypsy clan. Scottish Ballet melds a contemporary feel, with hints of eastern European folk, combining crowd numbers and earthier movements than one would associate with Ballet. Fortune Teller Roseanna Leney has a firmer command with her brief time of stage than sadly some of our principal dancers can manifest. Her character’s richness, strutting Infront of the naked branches of winter, with the regal purple sky hanging above – it’s an entirely perfect scene which echoes what could have been a flawless production.

Between the blossoming romances, the sibling squabbles and the spectacle of the circus, Scottish Ballet attempt a blizzard of emotions, but sadly the forecast ends with a flurry of confusion. Motivations cloud character interactions, and we’re never fully understanding of any. Offering brief snippets of genius, hidden in the flurry of snowflakes, Paulley’s ‘thief girl’ is mingled effortlessly into the choreography as she pirouettes around her victims. Hampson compliments the lightness of a thief, with the pointe of a dancer.

With staggering costumes, particularly make-up effects conjuring Frost Sprites, Wolves and Jack Frost’s into being, The Snow Queen does achieve a sense of wonder. In no small part due to Richard Honner’s arrangement of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s original score. As always the orchestra stands firmly level with the quality of the troupe, but this time, it outshines the movement on stage as the music, the imagery and colours steal attention away from the dancers.

As a storytelling vehicle, The Snow Queen leaves those with folklore in their blood with confusion. In trying to capture the imaginations of many, the ice is spread thinly across the board. Christopher Hampson’s choreography fails to reach the lofty heights anticipated but does still showcase the immense skill of Scottish Ballet. In seeking to position the stories of three leading ladies, The Snow Queen is unsure of how to balance these women and sadly, all three find themselves on thin ice.

The Snow Queen runs until December 29th, tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/the-snow-queen

Photo Credit -Andy Ross

The Crucible – Scottish Ballet, Theatre Royal Glasgow

Based on the play of Arthur Miller

Choreographed by Helen Pickett

Artistic Collaboration by James Bonas

Composition by Peter Salem

A prescient message of our time, the relevance of texts to a modern audience seems to change very little – only in so far as who finds themselves the target of today’s witch-hunt. Claustrophobic, illustrating the darkness lurking beneath a community turning in on itself, Scottish Ballet’s The Crucible is an evocative ballet which has expectations to live up to following the Edinburgh International Festival.

Few companies can encapsulate the source material, while still offering a reason to adapt, quite like Scottish Ballet. What happens with Arthur Miller’s iconic play, known to drama students, writers, academics and fans across the nation is nothing short of mesmeric sorcery. The suggestion that there was witchcraft at work here is applicable, but regrettably, we’re all too aware of those repercussions. 

It is, as in any production of The Crucible, the seductive entwining of Abigail and John Proctor which foreshadows the prospect of a production’s success. To find a measure of sexual passion, only just outweighing a genuine sense of romance, delivering a pas de deux of devastating betrayal against Proctor’s wife Elizabeth. Yet, there is no sight more painful than a ballerina attempting to engage without reciprocation. No matter how hurt, how Claire Souet laces her form against Barnaby Rook-Bishop, he remains in character, a husband realising his mistakes, even as she caresses, attempting to connect.

The proverbial marriage made in heaven – choreographer Helen Picket, together with theatre director/artistic collaborator James Bonas, concoct a profound connection with facial expression, storytelling and a heart of theatre with a soul of dance. Echoing a sense of community, capturing the dread of ‘fake news’, anxiety and the ease of truth distortion, it’s a production which reminds we haven’t come as far as would desire.

Inspirational, the richness in characterisation present onstage is impressive. All too often ballet companies find themselves at the mercy of silent performers – not Scottish Ballet. How, then, does one communicate a character as stoically earthy, immovable, as Danforth or the court? With staccato manoeuvres, the trio of danseurs – particularly Rimbaud Patron, communicate such weight, despite their featherfoot movements. Their presence in Salem is clear, their motives sharp, decisive and imposing. 

Stiflingly hypnotic, the en-pointe synchronisation for such minute movements is awe-inspiring – particularly for Abigail and troupe as they feign their naivety towards Danforth. Their feet become needles, stitching the fates of those they besmirch – weaving a soft foot across a blanket of lies. Delivering a superb solo, Katlyn Addison’s Tituba counters Souet’s characterisation of the manipulative Abigail. Fragile, fluid and open – Addison is engrossing to watch, drawing grief as we come to realise her fate, her swansong elevated through Peter Salem’s score.

Rarely is it this important for the composition to maintain pace with the movement on stage, Salem has outdone previous works with the construction of The Crucible’s score. The nuances in tone, rising in waves to balance the performance is down to a fine art, with astute, shrieking rasps of the string to emulate blinding panic, to a boundless, soft-sounding sense of love, struck with lashings of regret.

Jean-Claude Picard’s conduction this evening is effective in control. Crossing a variety of genres, in an intense ménage of an almost urban tribal mash-up of ballet and street-dance. Encircling, taunting one another further – shedding their gowns as their morality, compassion escapes them, Soeut leads a dance troupe as the dancers grow in fever-pitch which is rightfully as bombastic as the score. With a graceful transition of the woodland serving as a backdrop, it stands as a stand-out of the production.

These backdrops – a combination of designers Emma Kingsbury and David Finn brilliance, range in their visage as unforgiving stone walls to the unrelating hypocritic ‘comfort’ of the church’s light. Flynn’s toying with shadow, the puppet wolves Souet and crew fantasise descending on the Proctor house are a stark, entrancing reminder of the callousness behind Abigail’s smile. Equally as inventive, Kingsbury’s costume is period-appropriate, offering significant authenticity, emphasising aspects such as Danforth’s shoulders, the restrictiveness of Reverend Hales top-piece or the flowing, effortlessly shed gowns of the girls.  

So, it is a providence the thing is out – Scottish Ballet’s the Crucible is everything you may have read, but everything more. This is a pinnacle of the companies’ 50-year celebration, a clear illustration of the talent, dedication and genius which are repaid thrice fold in appreciation, enjoyment and respect. However you seek a ticket, even if you have to dance with the devil, chances are you’ll be forgiven.

Runs at Theatre Royal Glasgow until September 28th – then touring Scotland – tickets available from Scottish Ballet: https://www.scottishballet.co.uk/event/crucible

Photo Credit – Jane Hobson

Bull – The Space @ Niddry St.

Written by Mike Bartlett

Directed by Adam Tomkins

Runs at The Space @ Niddry St until August 24th (not 18th), 17.20pm

Bullying doesn’t stop when you hit adulthood – they just change up the tactics. With such a fine line between workplace harassment and genuine levels of manipulation, Mike Bartlett’s Bull examines the insane power of the spoken word, the ferociousness of human fulfilment and elements of elitist office politics.

A cull’, that’s how Bull refers to the difficult decision of ending someone’s employment. Eradication of the weak or even just the unfortunate? Three employees Tony, Isobel & Thomas await their fate. For Tony & Isobel, the choice is clear, Thomas has to go, and they will ensure he does.

Ravenous, though slick in their attack, both Tony and Isobel bring different tactics in a way to psych Thomas out, tripping over his insecurities. Tony, from the outset, is disgustingly smooth – a viper, coiling, biding its time. Jamie Stewart’s control is enviable, loathsome, treacherous and sneaky.

Teetering on the edge of capturing the role perfectly, genuine hate though eludes in moments. They’re a little too funny, too human to spit venom at. Certainly not from lack of trying, it takes Isobel a touch longer for us to begin to antagonise her, as Nayia Anastasiadou’sperformance seems irritatable rather than calculating, it’s only in the closing moments we gain a sense of the terror beneath, drawing blood with smirks.

Bartlett’s text is a staple of not only the Fringe but performing arts. Relentless in its aggressive demonstration of power play, it’s about tearing someone down onstage, yet still making your audience laugh. Its characters are sickening, manipulative, but hilarious. That is, except for Thomas.

Thomas is, in use of gross terminology, the ‘beta’ male. Far from innocent, one must note the misery in his performance, pathetic is a tricky angle – at the risk of having yourself, a performer, seen this way rather than your character. Ignoring this, giving Thomas a distinctly pitiful, but far from heroic portrayal, Jake McGarry finds a balance in which you want to run onto the stage and slap him into fighting back.

Adam Tomkins’ direction pits the three in chess-like manoeuvres. Every movement’s methodical, a counteract from another character’s step. There’s a dance element to it, elegant in their dedication to locking their prey into each trap set.

A fascinating look into the length’s people will go to for self-preservation, Bull is an eye-opening dark comedy which pushes the envelope in its characters likability. A series of humorous, though perhaps too identifiable performances make Arbery productions a must-see for those searching for an intelligent laugh while exploring the vices of human nature.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bull-1