The Secret is out: Scottish Ballet are having a festive ball on film

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Scottish Ballet’s The Secret Theatre: Dancers of Scottish Ballet, Scottish Ballet Orchestra / Gavin Sutherland and Jean-Claude Picard (conductors). Currently streaming (directed for the screen by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple) on Marquee TV. (JPr)

Jerome Anthony Barnes (Nutcracker Prince) and Sophie Martin (Sugar Plum Fairy)

Creative directors – Christopher Hampson and Lez Brotherston
Choreographers – Christopher Hampson and Peter Darrell
Designer – Lez Brotherston
Music – Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Frank Moon, and Peter Martin

With almost everything that makes life bearable having been inexplicably extinguished in Scotland during Christmas, the New Year and for the foreseeable future, the enterprising Scottish Ballet released this hour-long film which follows hard on the heels of the captivating Starstruck (review click here) and both can still be found on Marquee TV.

Kudos to Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple (a.k.a. Jess and Morgs) for beginning by showing Edinburgh as poignantly empty as the closed King’s Theatre that we will see being reawakened. Produced in association with Forest of Black, this brilliant idea of presenting ballet to audiences old and new in a different way is the brainchild of Scottish Ballet’s CEO and artistic director, Christopher Hampson who – as for Starstruck – is working with designer, Lez Brotherston, recently awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours list. Like the Ghosts of Christmas Past – and hopefully those of a better future! – Hampson melds some big moments from his own choreography for The Snow Queen (review click here) with that of the late Peter Darrell’s The Nutcracker (review click here). Equally disassembled and then stitched back together again are highlights from their Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky scores with additional music from Frank Moon and Peter Martin. For the recordings with the Scottish Ballet Orchestra – seen only during the credits – Gavin Sutherland (the English National Ballet’s music director) conducts the Tchaikovsky and Martin, whilst Jean-Claude Picard has the baton for the Rimsky-Korsakov.

At the end of every year the youngest of children will probably make their first visit to the theatre for pantomime and it will prove an experience they may remember for the rest of their lives. So it did for me when I went to ballet at Covent Garden in the 1970s and that planted the seed of a lifelong interest in dance. In The Secret Theatre we first meet a young boy (Leo Tetteh) playing with a football on those Edinburgh streets before he comes across – and sneaks into – the empty theatre. Hiding from a security guard he gets backstage and meanders amongst all the costumes, masks and props, including a shard of broken mirror, a wolf’s head (The Snow Queen) and a Nutcracker mask. Dressed in black with a matching fedora, Lexi (Alice Kawalek) springs from a trembling rattan laundry chest and the pair wander off together on their backstage adventures.

The Young Boy (Leo Tetteh) in Scottish Ballet’s The Secret Theatre

Together they uncover a Victorian circus and magically ballet meets The Greatest Showman and characters emerge from packing cases and large trunks with Bruno Micchiardi as the mysterious, twirling ringmaster overseeing a cast – replete with acrobats and clowns – which also includes Kayla-Maree Tarantolo’s ballerina who performs in a trio to the Dance of the Mirlitons; a comic, tattooed strongman (Nicholas Shoesmith); and a jumping, spinning ‘Jack Tar’ (Thomas Edwards) who looks as if he has wandered in from another ballet. (This is described as an ‘English divertissement’ which followed on from Spanish and French ones.) Throughout all of this, the boy looks full of wonder and so he should! He also gets to do some splendid street dancing and ball juggling of his own. Soon snow falls and we see the emergence of Constance Devernay’s haughty and quietly menacing Snow Queen (who transforms the ringmaster into one of her minions) before Lexi and the boy – firmly grasping his precious football – fly off on a magic carpet to arrive at a Roma encampment from The Snow Queen. There are some colourful costumes and much exuberance before the Snow Queen reappears and turns the gypsy leader into one of her wolves.

It is now that the worlds of The Snow Queen and The Nutcracker finally collide as white sheets cover everything and this is to represent a frozen landscape: there is a silvery Christmas tree for eight snowflakes go through their moves in front of as a choir ‘Aahs’ away in familiar fashion. A white sleigh appears and Lexi and the boy attempt to go on their way (music by Peter Martin) before she disappears and gets trapped in an icy prison. The boy challenges the Snow Queen before running away and hiding from her two wolves, and it is only after she pirouettes rapidly about when the boy kicks the football, shatters Lexi’s frozen imprisonment and she is free again. All those who have been enchanted are now also released from the Snow Queen’s spell and she spins some more before (melting and?) disappearing.

In a typical fairy-tale ending, everyone lives happily ever after. The boy is applauded and showered with more and more presents, as well as an ice cream sundae! Sophie Martin’s Sugar Plum Fairy (in rose pink and white) is shown descending from the top of a traditional Christmas tree. Engaged and enraptured by what he has seen – as we all have been by Jess and Morgs’s stunning closeup camerawork – the boy gets his Christmas wish and against a background of colourful baubles has now grown up into the Nutcracker Prince (Jerome Anthony Barnes) for the traditional pas de deux. The radiant Martin is a sheer delight and – I have equally deservedly used this about others! – she was as sparkling as the celesta we heard. The elegant Barnes seems to be an emerging young talent within the Scottish Ballet company and appears to be someone to look out for in the future.

Imagining the applause of an enthusiastic audience – a haunting sound in the circumstances – the boy reverts to his younger self and hearing the guard once more runs from the theatre. Outside on a cold Christmas evening he encounters a crowd watching a busker – everyone a familiar face – and Lexi is there to hand the boy his ball back and off they go smiling broadly.

I am too far away to enjoy the Scottish Ballet other than on any rare visit to London but have enjoyed all their recent innovation and the accomplishment of their talented ensemble vicariously through Starstruck and now The Secret Theatre and I hope for more of this from them in the future, alongside a return to performing back in theatres for their loyal audiences as soon as they regain their freedom.

Jim Pritchard

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