Forget those Disney scenes of cuddly little dwarves hi-ho-ing home, and cute woodland creatures whistling while they work. Another version of the Snow White fairy-tale can be seen this week at Sadlers Wells Theatre and it’s one on which to build new memories. Sticking closely to the Brothers Grimm's original nineteenth-century narrative and danced to selections from Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, it grabs the attention visually and artistically, and it’s riveting, dramatic and, yes, surprisingly romantic.
Albanian-French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj (pronounced Prezh-o-kazh), whose company is based in Aix-en-Provence, calls his one act, two hour-long, dark tale of Blanche Neige a ‘thriller’ – and he certainly gives his audience many scary and creepy moments. He has used all of the original text in twenty-two scenes, even including the wrenching of the heart from a deer and the Queen’s comeuppance for her callous conniving when she frenetically dances to death in red-hot sandals.
Preljocaj also makes a statement about today’s women who refuse to accept the aging process and compete with their daughters in their attempts to retain their youthfulness, sexiness and beauty. So this fabled evil Queen, who wants to be the fairest in the land, has become a twenty-first century Botox-filled, sensual dominatrix, stopping at nothing in her hostilities against her young stepdaughter. With exotic costumes designed by Jean-Paul Gautier, she cut an incredible figure in high-heeled shoes, thigh-length shiny black stockings, a swirling floor-length red-edged black open skirt, and a strappy, almost indecent bodice, which would delight Lady Gaga. Patrizia Telleschi made a fearful and spooky Queen, casting spells on the court as she whirled amongst them. She presented a powerfully strong yet graceful line in her dancing and demonstrated the needed drama for the role.
She was accompanied on her deadly deeds by two skinny, flexible feline characters, splendidly danced by Natacha Grimaud and Emilie Lalande. Nimble and silent-footed like black panthers, they made a fearsome duo. They joined the Queen in the ‘Mirror-mirror on the wall’ episodes, which were especially excellent, as their reflections behind the huge Gothic mirror effectively copied their complicated movements.
In contrast to all this darkness, the bare-footed young heroine is carefree and joyful. Swathed like a Grecian goddess in virginal white chiffon, which very loosely wraps under her body, exposing rather an abundance of muscular thigh – not the most flattering of costumes – she bounces and exudes her love of life and determination. We see her birth in the opening moments of the ballet – cracks of thunder and mist accompany the silhouette of a queen in travail. The King arrives too late to save his wife, but clasps the infant to his bosom, gently rocking her. Then, in two short sequences, we see her as a child (dressed in the same white outfit) bonding with her father, and then as a young teenager. She accompanies him to watch the dancers at the court where she glimpses the Prince for the first time – he’s hard to miss in his apricot tights and matching braces. The two finally meet in the countryside where frolicking bumpkins are performing a spritely dance.
The young couple begin with teenage frivolity until gradually their moods turn towards love. Virginie Caussin made a demonstrative Snow White, not afraid of showing her feelings and of giving herself to her innermost desires. She danced with a lightness and spirit and made the young heroine a believable character. Sergio Diaz, as the Prince, at first stunned by the outgoing nature of his girl, danced with love-struck joy and passion, his steps clearly defined and well performed. But it was their pas de deux to Mahler’s wonderful emotion-packed Adagietto from his Fifth Symphony that was most beautiful. Snow White (who has eaten the poisoned apple given to her in a remarkably effective duet by the wicked queen, in which the apple is literally thrust down the girl’s throat) is now lying on a glass panel on a rock. The Prince enters, sees her and falls to his knees. In a series of gliding caterpillar moves, like someone prostrate before a holy relic, he slides in quiet anguish, using every moment of the gorgeous music to show his grief. He pulls her down and dances with her limp body in clever acrobatic moves, handling her like a rag doll before lying her down. He falls on his knees in despair when suddenly, like Juliet, she awakens, sees him and gently touches him on the shoulders – a tingling moment.
Praise is also due to the lighting expert Patrick Riou: while some scenes were somewhat dark and gloomy, there were others, such as when shafts of light spilled onto the stage, that were spectacular, giving dramatic and atmospheric impact to the story.
However, the biggest hit of the evening was our first glimpse of the seven dwarves – here they are normal-sized yokels and become asexual companions to Snow White. They come home from the mines literally straight down the rock face, abseiling on ropes, agilely swinging and moving in a graceful aerial ballet like Cirque du Soleil acrobats. The scene was magical, effective and clever – as was the whole production.
The classic story of the wicked queen who sets out to destroy her rival is told through Preljocaj’s characteristically physical choreography, while Thierry Leproust’s dark and dramatic sets transport the audience to a fairytale world of magic, drama and romance.
Since founding Ballet Preljocaj in 1985, Angelin Preljocaj has created 45 choreographic works, ranging from solos to larger formations. The company performs internationally and at home in France where it is recognised as one of the country’s leading dance companies.
Sadler's WellsRosebery Avenue
London Greater London United Kingdom EC1R 4TN
Thursday to Saturday 7.30pm, Saturday 2.30pm
Duration: 1 hour 50 minutes