Who’s keeping things alive? It begins with M
It seems just a few families are keeping independent professional ballet ticking over in the provinces of our nation. Indefatigable twice-yearly tourists Vienna Festival Ballet are a Viennese-Scottish married couple, the Malleks, outposted in London and celebrating 35 years on the British road. That constitutes genuine success. Picking up that torch only seven years ago, Ballet Theatre UK are the Moores from the midlands: an artistic director, his wife and parents.
Neither outfit receives government arts funding, both companies live on their wits, creativity, courage and the goodwill of ballet lovers, or explorers, up and down the country who know, or discover, the uplift of seeing a live show. Invading Russian lower-ranked companies glamorously bring their three or four internationally popular national treasure ballets, but often stony-faced and leaving the ‘reserved’ English cold.
While VFB deliver the staple half-dozen classics to packed houses and sprinkle in their own creations every few years, Ballet Theatre UK not only tour but, in their own centrally-positioned ballet school at Hinckley, teach and train for the professional life ahead. And packed houses is what the The Snow Queen is winning, too. A dance city like Brighton craved them this Christmas, where their only Sussex date followed their previous Yuletide stopovers with The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol.
Earlier this year they toured with their own Aladdin. This Spring it will be Pinocchio. Another year you might see their Little Mermaid or Alice in Wonderland . Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Romeo & Juliet lie in their cupboard but already BTUK are defining themselves with this other less well-trodden repertoire – where it’s an exploration, a test of the imagination, and a challenge to create and establish an enduring production.
Not least is the musical challenge when no customary full-length musical score exists. The choice is to commission your own, with its inherent risks and expenses, or assemble existing music without making it sound like a patchwork or letting the joins show. The Snow Maiden attempts the latter and compiler Simon Paterson supplements his own work with an array of pieces that has got ballet fan forums spotting the semi-classic. Online I read people had noticed Bartok, Johann Strauss II, Kachachurian (Masquerade) and Glazunov (The Seasons), to which I can add Luigini’s Ballet Egyptien.
Christopher Moore tells and paints his stories with momentum and economy allied to an eye for drama and an instinct for character. He has drawn to him a capable team with ballet mistresses Julia Davies (a former BTUK principal) and Elizabeth Haslem, technical manager Russ Marquis and costume designer Dan Hope. Previous experience, at home and internationally, at Ballet Central and Northern Ballet, with Mark Baldwin and Christopher Gable, English National Opera, European Ballet and the Shakespearean stage, all comes to the table.
Moore’s Snow Queen choreography is direct, uncomplicated, and confident. It has flow and pace. Costumes satisfy and headgear is a becoming a BTUK trademark. This time, The Snow Maiden’s accomplice wolves stole their scenes in theirs. Touring scenery is touring scenery: attractive but modest and quickly rolled up for the travelling van’s departure. But The Snow Queen’s sleigh was a handsome and apt touring luxury - and looked tough enough to roll along behind the tour trailer.
It’s a small troupe, as self-funded touring dictates, but grand is unnecessary: the opposite breeds inquisitive dancers of strength and versatility. In David Brewer they already have a gem in the grooming. He is lyrically satisfying and capable of more wide-ranging character parts.
His co-lead Grace Carr possessed the fluency and a stamina for projecting the emotions demanded of her from start to finish. Gerda and Kay are not passionately involved friends, but lighter relationships among principles are more subtly demanding and Carr epitomised the production’s innocent spirit and its appeal as a Christmas offering.
Inês Ferreira enjoyed and unravelled her menace, malice and bravura as The Snow Queen content to let you freeze. And Frenchmen, Rudolphe Giacolone and Vincent Cabot observantly shaped Moore’s Raven and Reindeer as characters who wrapped a warm scarf around your neck.
Seek out Pinocchio. It’s likely you’ll be rewarded.
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