23 January 2010

The Snow Queen - English National Ballet @The Coliseum - Wednesday 13th January 2010


The Snow Queen is overseeing the creation of a magic mirror carved from ice. As the mirror is unveiled, she is horrified to find that instead of seeing herself reflected in eternal winter, the mirror reveals Kay and Gerda, in love, in a summer landscape. Furious, she shatters the mirror and begins to plan the return of eternal Winter.

Kay and Gerda have grown up together. They dance happily and greet Grandmother who helps them tend the white and red roses they have planted together. After their friends arrive, they are interrupted by a group of gypsies begging. The friends shun them, but Gerda feels sorry for their leader, a young girl like herself. The gypsies are driven away but Gerda gives the Gypsy Girl her shawl. As the friends depart, snow begins to fall. Winter has arrived more severely than ever. Kay is trying to light a fire, when suddenly a mysterious light begins to fill the room. The Snow Queen appearing at the window, enters. Kay is mesmerised by her beauty and is frozen to the spot. The Snow Queen commands slivers of ice to pierce his heart and his eye, Kay collapses to the floor, the room disappears and the Snow Queen vanishes.The villagers gather and enjoy the snow.. Kay arrives, but a change has come over him. He disrupts the festivities. Gerda tries to shake Kay out of the black mood that has mysteriously overtaken him but he destroys her precious roses, strikes her to the ground and runs away. The Snow Queen appears out of the blackness. At first Kay is afraid, but he is gradually overwhelmed by her beauty. She beckons him to her and kisses him. Kay feels a sudden rush of intense pain, but moments later he can no longer feel the cold. The Snow Queen enfolds Kay and lifts him up into the frozen night sky.

Eternal winter has descended on the village. Kay has disappeared without trace and Gerda is heartbroken. Unable to rest, she and Grandmother desperately search for him. Exhausted, she collapses in the snow and drifts into a deep sleep. Gerda dreams of the Roses, who tell her that Kay is not dead as they cannot see him in the earth. Meanwhile, Kay has been transported to the Snow Queen’s Palace.. Knowing the task to be impossible, she tells Kay that in order to gain his freedom, he must place all the shattered pieces of ice in their rightful place in her mirror.Gerda is still lying in the snow. Suddenly, she is surrounded by a group of gypsies. She is very frightened but the Gypsy Girl emerges from the group and protects her., Gerda begs the Gypsy girl to free her and help her in her search for Kay. Making sure that the other gypsies, having drunk their fill, are all asleep, the Gypsy girl secretly gives Gerda the gypsies’ Reindeer.

Arriving at the Snow Queen’s Palace, Gerda sees Kay sitting sad and alone, almost completely frozen beneath the mirror. He has completed the puzzle except for the final two missing pieces. As Gerda tries to approach Kay, she is stopped by the Snow Queen, who, aided by her minions, blocks her way. Gerda, with courage inspired by her love, runs to Kay, embraces him and starts to sob. Her hot tears melt Kay’s heart and the first sliver of broken mirror falls from his chest. Kay suddenly recognises her , and remembering his love for her, also begins to weep, causing the second sliver to fall from his eye. Seizing the two slivers, Gerda triumphantly places them into the mirror. The Snow Queen’s power is destroyed and her Palace begins to melt around them.

Creative Team:
Choreographer and Director: Michael Corder
Design: Mark Bailey
Lighting: Paul Pyant

The Snow Queen – Sarah McIlroy
Kay – Yat-Sen Chang
Gerda – Crystal Costa
Grandmother – Jane Haworth
Gipsy Girl – Begoria Cao
Roses – Esteban Berlanga and James Forbat

Reindeer – Esteban Berlanga

Well, if you had told me that this was the same company that performed that travesty of a Nutcracker that I saw recently, I wouldn’t have believed you. Whether the entire company had simply upped its game because they had much better choreography to dance and therefore more to do, or whether all the decent dancers had been taking leave over the Christmas period and were now back raring to go I don’t know, but everyone was on their very best form, really attacking the steps and getting the best out of the music. It really did look like a completely different company. Even the members of the corps who spent most of The Nutcracker simply going through the motions and therefore catching my eye simply because they were so dreadful were really going for it, and ENB looked like a proper ballet company again.

Michael Corder really did pull out all the stops with the choreography for this production. However, I think its fair to say that he pulled out a few more stops than was really necessary, because the whole evening simply went on far too long. I know that most ballet plots are gossamer-thin and that a certain amount of padding is therefore completely justifiable, but I did feel that this production overstayed its welcome by about half an hour. By Act III I had really rather had enough and found myself glancing at my watch. Not that I wasn’t enjoying what I was watching, but it seemed endless, with plenty that could be legitimately cut down or even cut completely. Whether Corder felt that all the music was so good that he simply had to use it all, whether he was justifying his salary as a choreographer or whether he just felt he wanted to take the phrase “full length ballet” to its ultimate definition I don’t know, but it began to irritate me in the end. In Act I, Kay and Gerda had two or three very long pas de deux, the Snow Queen’s courtiers had seemingly numberless dances and the Gipsy Camp in Act III looked rather like the fairy tales had got muddled up somehow and they were all wearing The Red Shoes, being forced to dance until they fell dead on the spot.

Anyway, Sarah McIlroy was fantabulosa as the title character, dancing with precision and stalking the stage like an icicle on heat (a somewhat mixed metaphor, but appropriate in this case). Her costume (apparently covered in an unheard of number of crystals, so many that the entire production had to be sponsored by Swarovski) can’t have been the easiest thing to dance in, particularly since it was topped off by the kind of crown that made the Romanovs look like second-hand car dealers) was amazing, but both Him Indoors and I thought that the amazing cloak of dark blue velvet covered with enormous glittery snowflakes could have been shown off to better advantage if the designer had “done a Rothbart” on it (Rothbart is a character in Swan Lake who spends a great deal of time sweeping about the stage in an enormous cloak. To show this off, the cloak is generally made very large and has poles stitched into the bottom of each front hem. The dancer can then grab these and flourish the cloak, which extends out beyond his hands by about 2 feet each side). Yat-Sen Chung and Crystal Costa (who sounds like a cup of glittery coffee) were spot on as Kay and Gerda, partnering each other as if they had been born to it. Costa was appropriately winsome and little-girly, but remained a little bit too saccharine towards the end for my taste. There was a missed opportunity to have a stage filled with dancing roses (in the end there were only two) and I’m sure that someone could have come up with a costume that was a little more inventive than merely copying Nijinsky’s from Spectre de la Rose. And I would just like to point out with my geek hat firmly pulled down over my ears that the antlers that the Reindeer was wearing were nothing like those of a reindeer but those of a moose (full marks to Esteban Berlanga for taking on possibly the most embarrassing choreography ever devised in this role – think a gay Mr. Tumnus and you’re almost there).

All in all, an evening which re-confirmed my belief that ENB can dance - unfortunately my bottom had gone to sleep completely by the end of it.

What the critics thought:



http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/stage/dance/article6986918.ece (I include this completely on the strength of a wonderful comment right near the end about gypsies in ballet!


Some nice excerpts from the production - although I wish ENB would drop all the "advertising comments" and just let the production speak for itself.

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