Leigh Donlan reports from Sonoma:
The Sonoma Conservatory of Dance gave a captivating performance of The Snow Maiden at the Sebastiani Theatre last Sunday.
In this mystical Russian fairytale, a forest girl is transformed into the supernatural Snow Maiden, capable of doing anything except one thing – falling in love – as the warmth of love would melt her to death. From the music and dancing to the costumes and set, Artistic Director Patricia O’Reilly’s production is exquisite, luring the audience into a magical turn-of-the-century Russia. The Conservatory also partnered with SAY (Social Advocates for Youth) Grief Services to help raise awareness and funds for the youth-serving nonprofit.
In collaboration with choreographer Brooke Byrne of Khadra International Dance Theater, there is nothing superfluous about this production, a gem amongst the usual beggared Nutcrackers of the season. The richness of the traditional folk music, folk dancing, and authentic costumes delighted audience members, young and old.
As The Domovoi (or House Spirit) in Act I, Grace Berger endearingly summoned the Snow Maiden (Emily Curiel). A remarkable performance by Curiel showcased her smooth technique and refined musicality. She performed a gorgeous pas de deux with the charismatic Evan Johnston in the role of the Shepherd Boy Lel in which Johnston impressively swept her fully arched body onto his back. Among the supporting players, Siobhan O’Reilly’s insightful portrayal of the Gypsy Fortune-Teller stood out.
When the Maiden and Lel fall in love and decide to marry, she predictably starts to melt. But The Four Winds swoop in to save her, each bearing a magical gift, and The North Wind guides the couple to safety in the Land of Snow. It’s here that the lead dancers shine. Each Wind performs a traditional folk dance from various regions of old Russia including Belarus, Kamchatka, Uzbekistan and Georgia. As the East Wind, Ximena Landeros’ intricate hand gestures were mesmerizing, as if her hands were made of flame. And Fiona Cole as the North Wind executed an impressive shamanistic folk dance with deep, undulating rhythms.
Act II took us to the court of the Snow Queen portrayed by the regal Laura Couchman, where we witnessed a hilarious scene between Mama Winter (Thea Cobb,) her Snow Man husband (Aaron Bremner) and their three mischievous Snow Drop children who proceed to pummel their parents with snowballs and steal their father’s carrot nose. Once the couple receives the Snow Queen’s blessing, Nazare Azevedo’s inspired Firebird guides them back to the village where the Old Woman (Nella Papdin) performs an old Russian pagan matrimonial ceremony. She joins their hands together with a silken kerchief. The couple walks in a circle three times – three representing the Trinity, or divine love, and The Domovoi dances around them three times in a circle, holding a lighted candle. Throughout, O’Reilly and Byrne’s meticulous attention to detail, their respect and honoring of authentic folk tradition is what sets this production apart from much of our local holiday fare.