Playhouse Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne, Melbourne.
9 December 2016.
A delightful alternative to The Nutcracker, The Snow Queen feels well-suited to the Christmas season and to its youthful cast. Premiered at the Australian Ballet School in 1993, this version of the fairytale features pleasing choreography by Petal Miller-Ashmole and simple but striking designs by Hugh Colman.
Over the course of the evening, we follow a young village girl, Gerda, as she goes on a perilous quest to save her lover, Kai. He has been persuaded to leave Gerda and follow the Snow Queen after shards of glass from a magical mirror pierce one of Kai’s eyes and his heart, rendering him cold to Gerda’s affections.
Yuumi Yamada is radiant in the role of Gerda. Her articulate footwork, expressive acting and youthful, delicate dance quality are perfect for this role, and I certainly hope Australian audiences will get the chance to see more of her in the coming years. As her partner, Kai, Xavier Pellin exudes a calm, natural stage presence — we don’t see him all that much compared to Yamada’s Gerda, but the two dancers nonetheless complement each other well in their pas de deux sequences, making for a very sweet and endearing onstage romance.
Elise Foster and Tene Ward, who danced the roles of the Snow Queen and the Gypsy Robber Girl, respectively, both have some inconsistencies in their technique still to overcome but nonetheless displayed admirable energy and commitment to their characters. Guest artist Christine Howard, meanwhile, was a wonderful addition as the protective but affectionate “grandmother” to Yamada’s Gerda, showing off her miming skills to great effect.
On the whole, the corps proved themselves not only technically strong but also well-rehearsed performers. Unfortunately, right after intermission, there were some very shaky ensemble moments in Act 2, Scene 1: The Ice Palace — a dancer’s near-fall during a lift, a somewhat less obvious false start by a corps member on the wrong musical cue, some shaky partnering by various dance couplings — however, the ensemble ultimately managed to leave behind these early Act 2 jitters and continue their strong showing to the end.
A big congratulations to all of the Australian Ballet School’s senior students for their hard work. There is clearly much to be proud of this year. To the graduates looking to start their careers as professional ballet dancers in 2017, I wish you the best of luck with your goals. But first, remember to enjoy this moment — you have earned it.
By Grace Gassin of Dance Informa.