“The Snow Maiden”
English National Ballet
December 11 to 16, 2007
by John Percival
copyright 2007 by John Percival
Born in London 52 years ago, Michael Corder began his career with the Royal Ballet after training at their school, and almost at once made his first choreography for their apprentice group, his first professional ballet following not long after. Since then he has worked as dancer and choreographer with companies in Britain, Denmark, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and USA, creating more than fifty ballets, some pure dance (he has a flair for showing even inexperienced casts to good advantage), others to stories both familiar and original. He says he has long been attracted to Hans Christian Andersen's “The Snow Queen” as a subject; also that having already produced Prokofiev's “Romeo and Juliet” and “Cinderella” the composer's less often heard ballet music for “The Stone Flower” appealed to him too. That was written for an unfamiliar subject not necessarily suited to western audiences, but he thought that “the various rustic, magical and wintry sounding elements in the score seemed ... to lend themselves completely naturally to the requirements of the Snow Queen story”. And so it has proved, with Corder's own adaptation of the action for a three act ballet and the music arranged by the composer Julian Philips, using about two-thirds of "The Stone Flower" plus extracts from two operas and a symphony.
Premiered by London Festival Ballet in Liverpool a few weeks ago, the new ballet has been on tour and now reached London, opening the company's winter season at the Coliseum theatre. The story (simplified somewhat for the ballet) shows the Snow Queen abducting the young hero Kay from his lover Gerda and confusing him by putting slivers of ice into his heart and his eye; but all ends well once Gerda finds and rescues him. Five casts took the leads but unfortunately a severe cold prevented me from seeing any but the first night. Daria Klimentova, born and trained in Prague, brings a fine command to the title part, and has said how happy she is for once to break away from her usual nice roles. Yosvani Ramos, who plays Kay with attractive ease, comes from Cuba, and his charming Gerda, Fernanda Oliviera, is Brazilian. (There is just one English dancer among the alternating leads from Canada, Chile, Estonia, Georgia, Japan and some more Cubans.)
Happily, there are many entries from supporting dancers, among whom Elena Glurdjidze gives a notable account of the gypsy girl who befriends Gerda and helps her escape to search for Kay with help from an amusing reindeer. White wolves and foxes among the Queen's icy followers, and two men as flowers to help Gerda's survival, stand out among the ensemble dances that occur all through the ballet for villagers, gypsies and wintry spirits. Mark Bailey's settings provide for rapid transformations and he has also devised ingenious costumes.
Some of the press reviews have been rather snide, but I must say that I enjoyed the show and look forward to its return. Audience response has been enthusiastic too, as displayed in the sold-out houses as well as the applause.
Photos by Patrick Baldwin.