The Snow Queen

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

THIS festive season Edinburgh is first to enjoy Scottish Ballet’s touring Christmas show. A carefully honed revival of Christopher Hampson’s 2019 ballet The Snow Queen – cleverly set to music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and inspired by the great tale by Hans Christian Andersen – the production is an inventive, opulent delight.

From very early in the piece – when Zach, the colourful ringmaster, (danced with delicious gusto by Bruno Micchiardi on Friday evening) and his circus come into town – the show sparks with an engaging creative dynamism. Hampson has given the travelling circus folk an even greater prominence in this slightly revised production, a choice that enhances an already winning festive ballet.

READ MORE: Popularity Contest: Scotland's national theatre aims to broaden appeal in 2023

The compelling energy of Hampson’s choreography is expressed wonderfully in the early scene in which Lexi (the disguised Summer Princess, danced by the spirited Anna Williams) picks pockets in the town square. The movement interplays beautifully with Rimsky-Korsakov’s music, not least when the famous Flight of the Bumblebee (from the composer’s opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan) accompanies the moment when the Snow Queen blows glass dust into the eyes of poor Kai, rendering ugly in his sight all that is beautiful.

The spine of the musical score is Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden. So rich and diverse is that music that it embraces the uplifting group dances for the corps de ballet as perfectly as it does the competitive pas de deux in which the entranced Kai dances, by turns, with his formerly beloved Gerda (Roseanna Leney on excellent form) and his supernatural seducer the Snow Queen.

The great musical traditions of Europe’s Roma and traveller communities are given charming recognition by the integration into the action of the ballet of violinist Gillian Risi, who appears on stage as a member of the circus troupe. Playing pieces from the composer’s Capriccio Espagnol (which are rooted in Spanish folk tunes), the musician is a wonderful addition to the stage company.

As in 2019, Lez Brotherston’s designs are a gorgeous highlight of the show. From the ringmaster’s gloriously ostentatious costume to the genuinely spooky masks for the Jackfrosts (the Snow Queen’s frightening minions), the designer’s skill and visual imagination are ideally suited to the demands of such a luxurious winter ballet.

Nowhere does Hampson’s production require more of Brotherston than in the great scene in Act II when the circus folk dance around their camp fire. From the flames themselves to the splendid wooden caravans (all illuminated in lovely half-light by lighting designer Paul Pyant), the scene is as captivating

as it is convincing. The designer’s attention to detail is exemplified in the character of the troupe’s strongman, who sports more tattoos than a World Cup footballer.

The dancing is never less than fabulous throughout. Indeed, the moment in which Kai (the fine Jerome Barnes) has to spin and hold Constance Devernay’s exquisite Snow Queen four times in quick succession is marvellous.

At Festival Theatre, Edinburgh until December 10, then touring until February 4: