CMNW Council

Preview: A dazzling, icy adventure, ‘The Snow Queen’ returns to Eugene Ballet

Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, the audience favorite opens the 2023/2024 season, accompanied by Orchestra Next playing a live score.

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Danielle Tolmie reprises her role of the wicked Snow Queen in Eugene Ballet's version of the beloved Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Photo by Jeremy Bronson.

Danielle Tolmie reprises her role of the wicked Snow Queen in Eugene Ballet’s version of the beloved Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Photo by Jeremy Bronson.

Eugene Ballet opens its fall season with a revival of artistic director Toni Pimble’s Snow Queen at the Hult Center for the Performing Arts, October 27-29. The company premiered the popular ballet adventure, based on the beloved Hans Christian Andersen tale of the struggle between good and evil, in 2017. Bob Keefer documented its creation for ArtsWatch in a seven-part series beginning here.

The story traces the wandering adventures of Gerda and Kay, sweethearts who get separated by the machinations of the villainous Snow Queen. Their efforts to be reunited features vignettes with Flowers in a Conjure Woman’s Garden, a Robber Girl, and a Rose. 

Erin Johnson as The Conjure Woman in "The Snow Queen." Photo by Ari Denison.
Erin Johnson as The Conjure Woman in “The Snow Queen.” Photo by Ari Denison.

The ballet is once again bolstered by the deft musicality of Orchestra Next, Eugene Ballet’s resident orchestra directed by Brian McWhorter, which will perform Kenji Bunch’s original score live at every performance.

A meandering tale

Pimble’s choreography streamlines Andersen’s winding story, reshaping the seven-part fairytale into two action-filled acts. “Most fairy tales have multiple scenes as the narrator weaves their tale,” says Pimble. “Selecting which scenes to keep and which not to include in a ballet is important to creating a danceable work.”

Sarah Kosterman and Nina Nicotera as Flowers in "The Snow Queen." Photo by Ari Denison.
Sarah Kosterman and Nina Nicotera as Flowers in “The Snow Queen.” Photo by Ari Denison.

The story moves between the Snow Queen’s palace, the Conjure Woman’s garden, the castle of a prince and princess, and after an encounter with a band of robbers, back to the palace of the Snow Queen. Love wins out at the end of this magical journey, with cold hearts melting, leaving audiences on a welcome happy note. 

Sponsor

Cascadia Composers May the Fourth

Principal dancer Danielle Tolmie is reprising her role of the wicked Snow Queen.

The enchanting score, costumes, and set return

Portland composer and violist Kenji Bunch created an ambitious musical score for The Snow Queen in 2017, the first ever commissioned by Eugene Ballet. Pimble worked with Bunch to shape the score. “When asking a composer to create a score there are three main factors to be addressed: the length of the piece, the overall arc of the work—this includes the number of scenes and length of each—and for a full-length ballet, where the intermission will occur,” explains Pimble. “Once these three factors have been established then detail is addressed within each scene.”

Sara Stockwell as The Rose in Eugene Ballet's production of "The Snow Queen." Photo by Ari Denison.
Sara Stockwell as The Rose in Eugene Ballet’s production of “The Snow Queen.” Photo by Ari Denison.

“There is a great deal of rhythmic complexity, which adds a challenge, with these beautiful melodies throughout – some of them earworms that stay in your head over evenings and weekends off,” says Sara Stockwell, who is reprising her role as the Rose, of The Snow Queen score. 

The original 2017 production harnessed the talents of over 150 artists from the Eugene area to help bring the tale to life, and nearly all of their dazzling hard work on costumes and staging will be on view in the new production. The 2023 production features the original, ethereal costumes by designer Jonna Hayden, which lend an enchanting magical quality to the performance. The ice palace set was designed by Nadya Geras-Carson and was built by Barry Rodgers and his creative team. 

Danielle Tolmie as the Snow Queen in Eugene Ballet’s version of the beloved Hans Christian Andersen fairytale. Photo by Ari Denison.

Toni Pimble says the fabric helped inspire the costumes. “Jonna’s motto has always been ‘let the fabric do most of the work.’ We went to the L.A. fabric district shopping for fabrics for The Snow Queen. We were very clear that the late British fashion designer Alexander McQueen would be a major influence on the overall look of the costumes and assembled an inspiration board ahead of time with each character represented.” A few costumes have been revamped for this performance. The jewels on the Snow Queen’s headpiece have been redone to make her presence even more striking on stage, and “icy” fabric has been added to Kay’s costume to increase the drama of the ending scene.

Eugene Ballet Academy students don’t take part in this performance, but are preparing for perennially popular The Nutcracker, which is up next for this ballet company in December.

Sponsor

Seattle Opera Barber of Seville

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The Snow Queen
Eugene Ballet
7:30 pm, October 27
2:00 pm, October 28-29
Hult Center for the Performing Arts, 1 Eugene Center, Eugene
Ticket are available on the Eugene Ballet website.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Jean Zondervan does communications work and enjoys creating content for causes. She has written and produced collaborative projects for print, web, exhibits, and video and has a particular interest in exploring environmental and social issues through the arts. Prior to settling in Portland, she taught English as a first and second language in Texas and South Korea, worked at the Art Institute of Chicago and a small gallery in England, and grew up on a farm in Minnesota. She currently tends to kids, pets, and a large garden in North Portland.

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