Vienna Festival Ballet’s production Snow White is lively, entertaining and fun. Presented in the manner of a traditional nineteenth century ballet, albeit on a small scale, the work features a ballroom scene (with show-piece tarantella), a nod towards a vision scene with a corps de ballet of nymphs and birds, and a grand pas de deux in the second act. The musical score, arranged by Alan Lisk from works by Samuel Alexander Faris and Charles-François Gounod abounds in danceable tunes, and the costumes were delightfully colourful.

Barry McGrath’s choreography was demanding and cleverly adapted for a small stage, with plenty of pointe work, batterie, pirouettes and renversés, even though grands jetés had to be condensed to fit the space. Some dancers were certainly more secure than others, notably the Queen who had generous upper body fluidity and the Tarantella dancer who delivered a strong set of fouetté turns in a tiny space on a crowded stage. It was a great pleasure to see so much dancing, although the narrative sometimes seemed squeezed: the horror of Snow White’s discovery that the Huntsman had been told to kill her disappeared in a moment, as he declared his love and they danced happily away, and it was even harder to believe that the couple would have been so swift to forgive the Queen at the end and accept her blessing. Much of the choreography was oriented en face to the audience, which perhaps reduced the opportunities for the cast to convey the story by interacting with each other, although from the very start there was a sense of repartee between the Queen’s two maids. The scene in which the Queen mixed her potion in a cauldron, assisted by four witches was dramatic and humorous as they dropped rats and snakes into the pot, and the audience laughed at the high jinks of the seven dwarfs. The dancers communicated most effectively with the audience when they also communicated with each other, creating an imaginary world on stage.

There was no cast list, but the programme included the names and photographs of all sixteen dancers. Two of the principals, Jaume Ruiz and Naomi Solomon, had trained at London Studio Centre, which is where Lisk and McGrath first worked together. Touring ballets on this scale without public subsidy is a huge achievement: the entire cast of this hard-working company seemed eager to perform and to love dancing, and they fully deserved the audience’s enthusiastic response. Vienna Festival Ballet returns to Banbury in May 2020.

Maggie Watson

7th December 2019