Snow Maiden – Review – Hull New Theatre
By Karl Hornsey, January 2018
The chance to see the Russian State Ballet of Siberia, one of the continent’s leading ballet companies, at Hull New Theatre this week was simply too good to resist. Touring the UK until April, this was their only visit to Yorkshire, but they have more than made up for that by performing all of The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, and Snow Maiden for the Hull audiences.
It was the latter, and undoubtedly the least well-known, of these five that I saw, and the performance was a triumph, thrilling the packed audience with its mix of emotive storytelling, traditional Russian folk dancing, and evocative music by Tchaikovsky, one of the master composers of ballet scores. The fact that the story, so little-known outside of Russia, where it is a hugely popular winter fairytale, was new to me made this ballet a refreshing change, and we were not to be disappointed.
The first scene of the opening act begins slowly, as we are gradually welcomed into the Snow Maiden’s world deep in the frozen forest, where she lives with Father Frost. This slow introduction allows the talents of Ekaterina Bulgutova to immediately come to the fore, as she dances with her friends, but it soon becomes clear that all is not well.
The mythical Snow Maiden is safe in the forest, but her desperation to live among real people causes her to head to a nearby village, against her father’s will. This leads us on to the more colourful and vibrant scenes two and three, where the winter village festival takes centre stage and the crux of the story comes to the fore.
With the beautiful set changing to represent the backdrop of a traditional Russian village, the Snow Maiden catches the eye of young merchant Mizgir, who is immediately smitten despite having betrothed himself to village girl Kupava. Mizgir is played by Ivan Karnaukhov, whose strength of performance, both physically and emotionally, marked him out as the star of the show in my eyes.
While he clearly lacks a bit of moral fibre, ditching Kupava at the first sight of the Snow Maiden, which let’s face it isn’t exactly the done thing, he ends the opening act left as baffled and confused as the rest of the villagers, as the Snow Maiden gets cold feet and flees the village.
The second act begins in the wintry forest, with Mizgir searching frantically for his new love, who has sought out her Mother Spring, from whom she hopes to be given the capacity to feel love. This leads us onto the most emotional scene of the ballet, as Mizgir finally finds the Snow Maiden, who must head for the protection of the forest, or risk melting in the wintry sunlight.
The romance and drama between Karnaukhov and Bulgutova is truly outstanding, demonstrating a raw emotion through their dancing and acting, but, of course, tragedy is just around the corner. Mizgir is left distraught as the Snow Maiden melts in the warmth of the sun, having only just declared their love for each other.
As much as this is a stunningly moving scene, there seems to me a somewhat unfortunate moral to the story, in that falling in love will lead to tragedy and/or death. Which seems a shame to say the least.
However, the story certainly doesn’t dwell on the Snow Maiden’s demise, ending with the final scene back in the village, where the celebration of the summer solstice is taking place, amid the most rousing and energetic dances of the entire ballet. While the penultimate and final scenes certainly don’t gel together by any means, this does mean the audience is left on a high, rather than with the image of forbidden, and ultimately tragic, love.
All of which makes for a wonderful experience, and one I would highly recommend should this company visit the region again.