The Russian State Ballet of Siberia: Snow Maiden

Derngate, Northampton
February 25, 2022

Read Charlotte Kasner on The Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s Swan Lake.
Read David Mead on the company’s Cinderella.

We didn’t know it at the time but the Russian State Ballet of Siberia’s performance of Snow Maiden in Northampton was to be the final show of the tour, curtailed as a result of the news from Ukraine. The company has a number of Ukrainian dancers, and one can only imagine the dynamics in the ensemble as events unfolded. It proved to be a fine and enjoyable farewell. If Cinderella the previous night was a little short on classical steps, Snow Maiden certainly made up for it.

Based on a play of the same name by Alexander Ostrovsky, the ballet tells the Russian folk tale of a beautiful Snow Maiden, the daughter of Father Frost. Keen to live among people, she runs away to a village where she meets a successful young merchant, Mizgir, who dumps local girl Kupeva as soon as he spots the icy beauty. Almost inevitably, her story does not end happily. Despite warnings, she manages to find herself in the sun, where she melts. On a brighter note, Kupeva finds happiness with Lel, the young shepherd who first asked the Snow Maiden to join the villagers. There’s probably a moral in there somewhere.

Elena Svinko as Kupava
and Marcello Pelizzoni as Mizgir
in Snow Maiden
Photo Ivan Karnaukhov,
courtesy Russian State Ballet of Siberia

Snow Maiden may be an unchallenging watch but with its strong and easy to understand story, it makes solid fare for a regional tour. Mark Peretokin’s mostly classical choreography with a few folk-influenced dances for the villagers is pleasing. Sergey Bobrov’s costumes and Dmitry Cherbadzhi’s projected settings evoke well forest and village. The opening scene, an ensemble of snowflakes backed by an icy stream and frosty, snow-covered trees brought an audible ‘ahhh’ from the audience.

It could be a very emotionally-laden story, yet there is very little in the way of exploration of the frustrations of the Snow Maiden’s forest existence, her desire to escape or the human feelings she is later given by her mother, Spring. As delightful as Anastasiia Osokina in the title role was, that left her nowhere to go except to show her lovely charm, grace and fluidity.

The score doesn’t help although Tchaikovsky’s incidental music composed for Ostrovsky’s play is very listenable to. At times, there are even echoes of some of his ballets (Nutcracker in particular) and his opera Eugene Onegin. It is very much in the mould of the composer but, while it may have been one of his favourites, as he wrote to his patron Nadezhda von Meck, it doesn’t have the depth, range or leave much room for that emotional development. Often quite sunny, it actually works best in the closing village celebration.

What drama there is comes from very-sure-of-himself merchant Mizgir. He also gets the best choreography, Georgy Bolsunovsky letting fly with some exciting leaps and turns. His pas de deux with the Snow Maiden also includes any number of tricky lifts, all done easily and effortlessly save for one heart-in-mouth moment.

There are some interesting nods to other ballets. Mizgir’s shifting of attention from Kupava to the Snow Maiden, from human to magical figure, has a little of La Sylphide about it, while his later being surrounded by snowflakes as he goes looking for his new found love, and his suicide leap from a cliff into the river after she has melted, both yell Swan Lake.

Elsewhere, Elena Svinko once again delighted with her grace and beautiful lines as Kupava. Matvei Nikishaev came into his own in the closing moments, including pulling off a series of five consecutive double tours in alternate directions. Grigory Botenkov looked a picture in his white beard and blue outfit as the gentle Father Frost (a sort of Russian Father Christmas). The ensemble made the most of what is probably one of the bigger stages of the tour.

Snow Maiden is a fine classical showcase for the company; and a Russian story to boot. Undemanding it maybe, but sometimes that’s just what’s needed. And it does look a real treat.