The Snow Queen has a new mirror. But instead of reflecting her beauty in eternal winter, the mirror shows her Gerda and Kay who live in a small village together with Gerda’s grandmother. It’s springtime and they’re happily in love. The Snow Queen shatters the mirror in anger and decides to take revenge on the two of them.
The Snow Queen is one of my favorite fairy tales by Andersen and when I saw that they’d perform a ballet of it – with music by Prokofiev no less – I knew that I wanted to see it. And it was a very nice evening, even though I can’t recommend it without hesitation.
Prokofiev didn’t actually write music for The Snow Queen. Instead Julian Philips re-arranged music from his Stone Flower and War and Peace to match Andersen’s story. I don’t know the original music, but what we got here was beautiful and very fitting – you wouldn’t know that it wasn’t expressly written for this story.
Equally impressive were the costumes and the stage design, especially when it comes to the Snow Queen and her fantastic court. From arctic wolves and foxes to the mirror itself, it was a visually stunning production. The choreography was really nice as well, though not very flashy to the untrained eye like mine.
And yet I don’t feel comfortable with recommending the show without pointing out that they decided to transform the robbers into “gypsies” – and I use that term fully knowing that it is a slur. But the depiction of the people here is every gypsy stereotype honed to perfection and has nothing to do with actual Roma or Sinti, so I feel the world is called for. In any case, that bit of racist nastiness really tainted the show for me. And it’s not only that they used all markers for “gypsies” on stage – black hair, red dresses with scarves, dancing and raucous behavior etc. – they literally call them “Zigeuner” (the German word for gypsy) in the program. If the group had been thus described in the original story (that is 170 years old after all), one might have called it antiquated (not that it couldn’t have been updated). But in Andersen’s story, these are simply robbers. No mention of their ethnicity. That just makes the entire thing horrible.
As much as I enjoyed the rest of the show, that bit was just a slap in the face and should never have happened in a show that premiered in 2015. Which means that I feel a little weird about telling people to see it. If you do see it, at least be prepared for the racism – and for discussing it with your two nieces under 10 years of age who are accompanying you (like in my case).