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Ballet Preljocaj

'Snow White'

by David Mead

May 10, 2012 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

To say that Angelin Preljocaj’s “Snow White” starts off darkly would be an understatement. The young queen, dressed in black, and on a cold, black stage, dies alone as she gives birth. It’s incredibly stark and rather melodramatic. While it’s true that he largely lays off the sugar in his ballet, things soon brighten up, as we see glimpses of the child growing up, and then find ourselves observers at a ball in the rather modernist palace.

Once we get past the opening court scene, which rather overstays its welcome, Preljocaj holds our attention with some cracking dance and scenes that will linger long in the memory. The work may be 110 minutes without a break, but time flew by.

Virginie Caussin was quite a womanly Snow White, although her outfit, a white chiffon number wrapped around her that revealed some chunky thighs and suggested she was wearing very little underneath didn’t do her any favours. It is designer Jean-Paul Gaultier’s one aberration among a series of striking costumes, including a wedding gown that looks remarkably like a tiered wedding cake.

Preljocaj may not be noted for it, but here he shows he can do romantic. When Snow White finally gets to meet her prince (Sergio Diaz) away from the formality of the palace, the couple dance starts carefree and playful. But this Snow White is far from an innocent maiden, and it always seems to be her making the running. Things soon get astoundingly sensual as the dance starts to include lots of nuzzles among the lifts and tumbles. Before long she is throwing herself at him. It all climaxes with a long, sustained kiss after she has slowly lowered herself onto his prone body.

It gets even better. Towards the end, when the Prince discovers Snow White’s body he doesn’t simply kiss her, but shows his despair, prostrating himself before her as she lays prone on a sheet of glass. Then in an echo of “Romeo and Juliet”, he dances with her lifeless body. To the strains of the emotion-packed Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, and with the dance packed with references to their earlier duets, he tosses her around, her body sometimes sliding from his grasp. He even occasionally uses her as a springboard. Like Juliet, she comes to life, but slowly and unseen by him until she gently touches him on the shoulder.

As good as those duets are, the two best scenes are elsewhere, though. The entry of the seven dwarfs is spectacular. They appear from tunnels hewn in a rock face, then engage in some of the best aerial dance you will ever see, full of clever patterns, summersaults and upside down pirouettes. Once on the floor they remind one of enthusiastic scouts; there’s even one dance performed seated around what could be an imaginary camp fire. Equally breathtaking is the scene where Snow White’s dead mother reappears as a ghost, gliding from on high as ethereally as you could ever wish for. When she takes the sleeping girl and lifts her into the air it’s as spine tingling as it gets.

In amongst all this is Patrizia Telleschi’s stepmother, a nasty piece of work with a fondness for thigh length skyscraper stiletto boots, revealing black leather and horse whips. She high kicks and stamps her way around to great effect. Her appearance at court spreads fear as she whirls among the guests firing off spells that had the effect of poleaxing their target. Carabosse eat your heart out. Later, she doesn’t so much give Snow White the apple as ram in down her throat full bore before dragging her around the stage, her teeth unable to escape the poisoned fruit. Telleschi was more than ably backed up by her two gargoyle cats, outwardly cute but with a decidedly mean streak, danced by the fluid Natacha Grimaud and Emilie Lalande.

This is a “Snow White” that is clever, magical and an absolute delight. Preljocaj’s spell is helped along by Patrick Riou’s lighting and Thierry Leproust’s captivating sets that take us on an enchanted journey from the futuristic, minimalist ballroom complete with square-cut thrones that rise up the wall as if by magic, to the to the dark beauty of the forest and the dwarves mine, before returning home. It’s a version that’s going to take some beating.

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