The Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s version of the Snow Maiden was a rare opportunity to see a full ballet company with orchestra in Oxford. The story of the girl made of snow, who longs for the capacity to love, only to melt away when she achieves her heart’s desire, inspired a play, an opera and a ballet in nineteenth century Russia. The version brought to the New Theatre tonight, well-danced to a composite Tchaikovsky score, cleverly combines traditional effects, such as dry ice, with modern projection technology (snow falls; water ripples; the sun transforms the winter landscape into spring), to give a very enjoyable theatrical experience.

The corps de ballet of snowflakes in white tutus acquitted themselves neatly and efficiently despite the somewhat confined space, their spiky shapes and movement patterns suggesting flurries of icy snow. The Snow Maiden herself was a lovely classical dancer, with a strong but unobtrusive technique, and Mizgir, the young merchant, powerfully partnered both her and his bride Kupava, executing some spectacular lifts.   The village scenes hinted at the company’s strength in character dance, from the vigour of the Tumblers to the subtle insertions of heel and toe steps into the women’s pointe work. The dancers conveyed the story clearly (indeed Mizgir’s anguished grief risked tipping into melodrama), but the choreography, attributed to Marius Petipa and Sergei Bobrov, didn’t always aid the expression of emotion through movement (Kupava, the jilted bride, had to show her distress with a sequence of jumps and fouettés). In the final scene, the tragedy of the Snow Maiden and Mizgir is forgotten as Lel the shepherd comforts Kupava and everyone dances round a maypole to celebrate the Solstice: a happy ending that left the audience feeling happy too.

The company is touring to a punishing schedule, which is perhaps why there were no cast sheets, although the printed programme listed various possible castings for the principal roles.  This was frustrating, given the individuality of the various performers, and the fact that the company frequently tours the UK.  It would be a pleasure to watch and get to know some of these dancers’ work better.  There is still time to catch this company: they dance three performances of The Nutcracker in Oxford on Tuesday and Wednesday, before opening in Blackpool on Friday.  Quite a week!

Maggie Watson

8th January 2018