REVIEW: The Snow Queen: Ballet Theatre UK at Brighton Dome

Gerda with Snow Queen entourage
Gerda with Snow Queen entourage

Chief characters: Snow Queen, Claire Corruble Cabot (France); Gerda, Anna Yliaho (Finland); Kay, Andrew McFarlane (Scotland); Pas de Trois: Marie-Lys Boulay (Fr), Ewan Hambleton (Scot), Megan Phillips (England). Choreography , Christopher Moore (Eng, founding Artistic Director); Musical score compilation, Simon Paterson; Costumes, Daniel Hope (Eng).

It’s quite a few Christmases since the weather has been cold enough for the sight of a snow-coated forest stage backdrop not to make a southern British audience feel frost-bound. With snow remnants still lying in Sussex, The Dome’s folk were more acclimatised for Ballet Theatre UK returning revision of their 2015 show for year’s end.

Classical ballet has been thin on the ground at The Dome and in Worthing for a couple of years so its fans were hungry and glad to be anticipating something easy on the eye and sumptuously dramatic on the ear.

They were served up enough of both, with choreography easy to assimilate, competently executed, and a score compiled by Christopher Moore with soundman and composer Simon Paterson in which Glazunov’s The Seasons, the main dish, was gatecrashed at certain set pieces by more peppery Russians – Tchaikovsky, Katchachuryan – plus a south European interloper from Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien. Five Bartok folk tunes for piano, in an orchestration, functioned aptly during Act 1 while villagers danced contentedly until drama strikes when the evil Snow Queen’s earmarks Kay for a spot of spell-slavery.

This diversity would have been musically disorientating at times to a purist but Moore later explained his purpose was to use recognisable familiar pieces to punctuate Glazunov’s less well-known sections for a show that goes out at seasonal times to a holidaying family audience. So at times it was spot the tune.

With no external funding this Leicestershire-based company, nearing its 10th anniversary, has to work extra hard for its living. This meant they toured The Nutcracker to more than 50 venues across England and Wales in the autumn season right up to their Dome visit. The tour has been a success and the company’s international trainees and apprentices have been extending their grounding alongside the 15 senior company dancers who include four boys.

The casting of the principals had almost an affinity with a nordic snow forest. Gerda was danced with disarming purity by a Finn (Anna Yliaho), her pal Kay with uncomplicated economy by a Scottish Highlands native (Andrew McFarlane). Theirs is not a full-blooded love interest – although by the end of their scrape, a loyal young friendship deepened was not an unfanciful assumption at the moment when Glazunov’s most romantic pages underpinned the closing pas de deux of their deliverance.

No French chic was required as the Snow Queen from Claire Corruble Cabot. Facially she is sharply suited to the role of unrelenting malevolence and the cut of her costume suitably seductive, though the captured and stricken Kay is almost too innocent and stressed out to notice.

A bawdy flower seller, an enchanted reindeer and a non-traditionally benevolent raven all help Gerda to ensure goodness prevails, and to thwart the Snow Queen, her obedient, adherent wolves, and her impressive sledge-chariot.

Ballet Theatre UK aim to introduce, delight and entertain. To the three Tchaikovsky classics, plus Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet and Giselle, they have added to their armoury Aladdin, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, A Christmas Carol (here in 2014) and The Little Mermaid.

A remarkable 10 years’ work, and now comes A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Moore’s new production to Mendelssohn’s irresistible score, and set to visit 25 places in February and March. Nearest visits will be to Epsom and Winchester. The Little Mermaid takes over for April, May and June, coming closest at Andover and East Grinstead. For later next year, maybe at The Dome, Beauty And The Beast is in the making.

Ballet Theatre UK and similarly unfunded Vienna Festival Ballet, after respectively a decade and nearly four, are valiantly keeping classical alive in our provinces. And here was another audience grateful for that.

Richard Amey