The final performance of the Finnish National Ballet’s The Snow Queen, on November 11, saw the Helsinki Opera House packed to the rafters. At least half of the attendees were under the age of 10 and impressively well behaved throughout the duration of the over two-hour show. Choreographed by Kenneth Greve, this very liberal adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale is part of the company’s repertoire, one of the six-story ballets that Greve created during his term as the Finnish Ballet’s Director from 2008 – 2018.
The ballet’s production value is spectacular. The costumes designed by Erika Turunen are critical to establishing the early 20th-century timeframe as well as the fantastical and folkloric aspects of wintery Lapland, where the Snow Queen resides. The Snow Queen’s white and silver bodice and tutu imbue her character with an icy, sharp perfection, while her headpiece, which resembles crystalline deer antlers, makes for a fitting Lappish crown.
Turunen and Mikki Kunttu’s sets are ambitious, with a bright and surprisingly realistic recreation of Helsinki’s Market Square and a warm and steamy typically Finnish sauna representing the underworld. The Snow Queen’s castle features a spectacular ice throne and staircase, which on their own would have been sufficiently captivating, but the set designers seemed determined to go over the top. Large cones or shards hang from the ceiling and jut from the sides and back of the stage, changing every color of the rainbow in what resembles a tacky Christmas display. In this case, less would have absolutely been more.
The same cannot be said of the choreography. The best word to describe Greve’s choreography is simplistic. There is nothing complex or stirring about any of the choreography, which often feels wooden and amateur. The solos and pas de deux start off slow and uncomplicated, and we are left with a promise of a crescendo that never materializes. This vapid material may be enough to entertain the younger viewers, but a ballet aficionado is left feeling wholly disappointed.
Synchronization across the corps de ballet was an ongoing issue throughout. Even when dancing in small groups of four or five, it seemed like one of the dancers was always a half-beat off. This was particularly surprising to encounter at the last performance of the run, when dancers should have had enough experience performing the piece to have worked out these very visible kinks.
The roll of the Snow Queen is any prima ballerina’s dream. She’s beautiful, severe and cruel, and tailoring the performance to portray these traits can truly show a dancer’s acting chops and physical expressivity. And while Lucie Rakosnikova looked the part with her frost blue, gray and white makeup and angry countenance, her body did not follow suit. There was no fury or aggression in her movement. Her arm gestures, which should have been large and imposing, were slack and unprecise, and the same could be said of her jumps. Everything about the performance felt like she was just phoning it in. Of course, the decision to have her jet around the stage on a Segway in one scene rather than actually dancing across it didn’t exactly lend credence to the characterization either.
Reviewed on 11th of November at Helsinki Opera House