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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Dark Glamour of Snow White

Milwaukee Ballet premieres ‘Mirror Mirror’

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Milwaukee Ballet’s Mirror Mirror is a spectacle of very high order. The darkly glamorous reconstruction of Snow White by choreographer Michael Pink and composer Philip Feeney had a flawless world premiere last Thursday, no mean feat given its complexity. David Grill’s shimmering lighting with deep purples, turquoise and spooky chartreuse is sensational. Todd Edward Ivins’ surrealist scenery—wide broken columns and spidery trees—might have overwhelmed the dancing or frustrated the dancers tasked with repeatedly moving the dozen rolling sculptured pieces to cues that looked as hard to learn as the choreography. But the company triumphed—above all, Susan Gartell in the pivotal role of the wicked stepmother Claudia and, on opening night, Nicole Teague as Snow White and Alexandre Ferreira as her boyfriend Gustav.

Assisted by young resident choreographer Timothy O’Donnell, Pink tells his focused story of a shattered family in a less realistic style than usual, one laden with symbolism: black-darkness-evil versus white-light-goodness; a raven and dove instead of, say, black and white swans. It’s a tale of selfishness and ruthlessness that could apply to many situations in our world. What do you do when you look in the mental mirror and admit that someone else is ahead in matters most important to you?

Pink’s sensitivity to, and respect for, children figures prominently; his production includes, yes, seven children among the forest community that welcomes Snow White in her flight. When Claudia kills Snow White with a fiery cloak, a child’s breath brings her back to life. The most moving moment is the reunion of Snow White and her dad, played with heart by Davit Hovhannisyan, after Gustav rescues Snow from death by apple and Claudia is devoured by the demon-driven mirror.

The tiring conflation of evil with voluptuousness and goodness with virginity is largely countered by the appeal and power of the women’s performances. Ivins’ costumes help, fully displaying Gartell’s strong, limber body and accentuating Teague’s gracefulness. Ferreira, always an exciting soloist, was an excellent partner to them both.

The stellar Andrews Sill conducted the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra in a moving performance of what may be Feeney’s best ballet score to date, much as I admire his Peter Pan and Dracula. The new score’s many colors, moods, surprising effects and fascinating rhythms never stop, except for one intermission, so the ballet never seems a collection of numbers but rather the unwinding of an inevitable destiny.