Clara, sugar plums, and the rest of the Land of Sweets have the monopoly on winter holiday ballets, so when I heard about FrenetiCore Dance’s new version of The Snow Queen, I was all ears. I’ve been sugared out for years. The narrative ballet opened December 4 at Frenetic Theater and runs through December 12, 2015.
The Snow Queen is a lengthy Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale that follows good-hearted Gerta (Lauren Burke) and her companion Crow (Adam Castaneda) to save her friend Kai (Jaime Garcia) from the evil Snow Queen (Holly Moran). In usual Anderson style, the tale is complex so Castaneda’s adaptation left the audience without struggle to understand the storyline. His narration was neatly and succinctly woven throughout the evening keeping a quick pace and relieving the choreography from bearing the weight of narrative responsibility. FrenetiCore whisked us on a Scandinavian journey as Gerta and Crow braved a summer blizzard, a prophetic river, magical flowers, mysterious old women, and of course the evil Snow Queen, the “destroyer of love,” who had captured Kai. She had frozen him to keep him away from his betrothed, Aldine (Jessicaa Foleyy). The Snow Queen unfolds into a tale where friendships are worth fighting for, and Gerta’s loving pursuit of Kai ultimately softens the Queen, teaching us that a pure heart can melt even the coldest of adversaries.
FrenetiCore Dance is dedicated to narrative work, an accessible entrance for audiences into the realm of modern dance. Artistic Director Rebecca French brought on choreographers Heather vonReichbauer and Laura Harrell to share the load. FrenetiCore has been struggling to achieve the polish and technical caliber of a professional dance company, but The Snow Queen is their most developed work to date. Still, the performers would have benefitted from additional rehearsals. There were times in the final scene when the ensemble looked around nervously for someone to follow and slightly out of sync, but the additional choreographic voices – especially that of vonReichbauer—elevated the company both in movement complexity and musicality. Her scenes, specifically the initial entrance of the Snow Queen, and in Act II, the backstory of the Snow Queen, were dramatic and magical. Harrell’s kaleidoscopic Enchanted Flowers scene was also notable. She brought restrained partnering to the production, a welcomed shift from FrenetiCore’s frequently acrobatic interactions.
The performance opened with a corny introduction of Gerta and Kai. The combination of music, choreography, and dancing in the first two scenes looked unprofessional, and was a poor indication of the enchanting story to follow. We soon find them in a snow storm in the middle of summer in Scandinavia. Four centaurs carried in the stunning Moran like the figurehead on a ship. She was a warmly evil, child-friendly, Snow Queen. Her piercing eyes and expanding smile stole focus from the rest of the stage. Simply with the control of her own arms, she swirled, manipulated, and beckoned the rest of her bobbly-headed frozen kingdom. These quirky ice minions pulled us into their sinister snow globe with icy flakes falling from the rafters. I had never met an evil queen I liked so much, even if she did freeze Kai with a kiss.
Both Aldine and Gerta would be understandably devastated by Kai’s abduction, and you may assume there would be jealousy between a man’s best female friend and his fiancée. Castaneda chose to give them a moment of connection in a scene called “In Mourning.” French choreographed the duet, which had some lovely suspended moments, but lacked the prescribed sorrow. Castaneda broke the formula by inviting the audience to follow the platonic relationship while leaving the fiancée back at home and off stage. I was looking for a bit more choreographic development on why she didn’t join Gerta; Aldine came off a bit apathetic to stay at home in the village while another woman went to save her lover.
Later in the show, French’s choreography gleamed in her comedic bit of three coquettish robber maidens who successfully pick-pocketed the travelers. This playful scene added a fun dimension to the tale.
Each time the Snow Queen returned, the scene elevated. In the section by vonReichbauer where we learned the backstory of the Snow Queen, an elastic and powerful demon (Davis Stumburg) took pity on the fallen Snow Queen, calling back her soul and giving her power over the cold. We learned that the Snow Queen had been in love and had been forsaken by her husband. This insight, wisely placed in the second act by Castaneda, rounded out the evil Queen, and served as a harbinger for her eventual mercy on Kai. In this scene Garcia (who also danced the part of Kai) played the Snow Queen’s lost love, which was confusing.
The Snow Queen is a charming tale, and FrenetiCore has done a commendable job organizing a complicated story into a digestible, feel-good show for the whole family. It is a pleasant change of pace from the Nutcracker ballet. Video projections by Mel Peterson added a current edge to the timeless fairy tale. No music credit was given. You can still catch three more performances of The Snow Queen December 10-12, 2015 at Frenetic Theater.