Michael Corder's The Snow Queen is glittering but bland. Adapting Hans Christian Andersen's tale for English National Ballet, he has chosen sparkling Prokofiev music with traditional designs and classical steps. He gives the dancers plenty of technical challenges, but not much to get their teeth into.
Created in 2007, the work was planned as traditional fairy-tale ballet: three acts, lots of dancing. Andersen's tale has been adjusted. Kay and Gerda are young adults rather than children. His heart is still frozen by a splinter from a magic mirror, she still sets out to rescue him from the Snow Queen's icy kingdom. The Snow Queen herself becomes more actively malevolent, jealous of Kay and Gerda's love.
The magic mirror shatters in a prologue. Once infected, Kay goes from idyllic-young-love duets with Gerda to sullen tantrums, before the Snow Queen lures him away. Yet Corder gives the story little dramatic weight. There are a few mime gestures, a change of tone. The storytelling is in a hurry to get to the dancing – which is clean and academic, without being individual.
As the Snow Queen, Daria Klimentova snaps into arabesque or whirls through fast steps. Mark Bailey dresses her in a fur-trimmed cloak and spiky Russian headdress. Her technique is implacable. Corder aims for scintillating, hard-edged brilliance, but his Snow Queen lacks the icy blast of winter.
Most of the music comes from Prokofiev's The Stone Flower, arranged by Julian Philips. The new story is neatly tied in, but there's a shortage of momentum – particularly with Gavin Sutherland's sluggish conducting.
A different Kay might lift Corder's ballet. Yat-Sen Chang is a strong technician but an unyielding dancer. He forces his dancing and his smile. Kay's emotional journey becomes blank.
Crystal Costa, his Gerda, is much fresher. Her lines are strikingly soft; she flows around Chang in their duets. She makes an eager, outgoing heroine.
Corder's best choreography comes in the character work. The Gypsies have stamping, folk-edged numbers. Elena Glurdjidze makes the most of the Gypsy Girl, with sharp footwork and gleeful character. Corder's Reindeer is endearingly silly in body tights and antlers, giving a little wriggle when Gerda strokes his back. Max Westwell is bouncily in character, kicking up his heels.
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