Friday April 20th at 8 p.m. the Power Center filled with people excitedly anticipating the talked-about performance of Ballet Preljocaj’s rendition of the beloved Grimm fairy tale, Snow White. The lights lowered, and the audience fell silent. The performance began with a bang, with loud, dramatic music, low lighting, and smoke filling the stage as the curtains parted. A shadowy figure stood behind the smoke, barely visible. She slowly moved forward through the smoke, a creepy, but beautiful figure dressed in an all black, gauzy flowing gown, with black gauze covering her face and her hair, a black crown on her head. She is the pregnant mother of Snow White. In agony she gives birth to Snow White, but dies in the process. The king, also dressed in all black with a towering black crown, enters the stage with his men, and he picks up the baby. The men carry the body of the mother off the stage. And so the show begins! Incredibly dramatic.
The king dances with his baby daughter, then briefly runs behind a panel of fabric, emerging with a little girl, dancing the part of young Snow White. Once again they run behind a panel of fabric, and out comes the star of the show, the most beautiful girl in the kingdom, Snow White, danced by Nagisa Shirai.
Throughout the performance sets and costumes created a beautifully enchanted fairy-tale world. This production of Snow White is certainly nothing like the Disney cartoon. The characters are darker and creepier, and the entire performance is fused with sexual tension and suggestive scenes. The performance was given a very clear disclaimer that the content is very adult, and that the show contains nudity, so it is not recommended for children to attend. However, I felt that UMS took the idea that this ballet is for adults a bit too seriously, making the audience look for these racy points in the piece, focusing their attention on the fact that it is “adult” rather than taking it as a piece of art without this prior disclaimer in mind. The nudity contained in the piece consisted of one female dancer dancing a part topless, and it was really in no way sexual. She played a deer, complete with big fuzzy pants and antlers on her head. She was the animal sacrificed in order to protect Snow White from being killed, as the men needed to bring a heart back to the evil stepmother. Scenes that were meant to be sexual, such as the scene with the lovers in the woods, in a place where lovers go to have sex, were obviously not explicit. The dance movements suggested something sexual, but it was also very playful and flirtatious, much more innocent than the disclaimer warned audience members that it would be. This preoccupation with the sensuality of the piece persisted throughout the Question and Answer session with the dancers after the performance, with many individuals asking the dancers about the sexual content in the piece, rather than their experiences as professional ballet dancers in such a world-renown company.
There were many really exciting and interesting moments in the dance. It was very engaging to see how the company portrayed different characters and scenes, as the story is so well known to its audience. I loved how the mirror scenes with the evil stepmother were portrayed, using a black screen and another dancer on the other side mirroring the character’s movements. It took me a minute to realize that it was another dancer in costume on the other side of a screen rather than a real mirror–the dancers were so precise!
I also loved the scene with the “dwarfs,” in this case miners who were described by the dancers in the Q&A session as “monks” or non-sexual beings, a necessary component as a way of making sense of Snow White’s residence with these seven men while she was in hiding. They were suspended onto a rock wall, and danced up and down the wall, doing flips and turns. It was so cool to watch.
I also loved the moments between the prince and Snow White. During their meeting in the forest, where the lovers go, the music stopped as they danced together for the first time. It was breath-taking to watch them move together for an entire phrase in silence. They repeated the dance phrase once again and the music came in. It was like experiencing that moment of first falling in love between the two of them, where the world around them doesn’t exist, that intimate moment, and then watching it again from our perspective, on the outside with music. There was also an incredible scene after Snow White is poisoned by the apple, and the prince mourns her death. He flops around her “dead” body, dancing with her, tossing her around and performing a beautiful and tragic pas de deux seemingly completely on his own strength. They really made a wonderful pair dancing together throughout the performance.
Ballet Preljocaj’s performance of Snow White was a really incredible final dance performance for the UMS season. Ballet Preljocaj is a talented company of artists. They are some of the best dancers and performers I have ever seen. They moved completely in the moment, as if it were the very first time they were performing the dance. Their movements were full and luscious, and they were very aware of the other dancers on stage, moving together and feeding off of one another. They were very playful, and stayed in character relentlessly throughout the piece, including interactions and gestures that appeared and felt improvised and genuine. They never seemed to simply dance the steps taught to them, but they completely immersed themselves in the characters, in the movements, exploring the movements and the character, being in them and growing in them to fill them out before the audience. It was so beautiful and rewarding to watch. Ballet Preljocaj is certainly a company to watch out for. I’ll be looking forward to their next production, and I hope they will come back to perform here in Ann Arbor again soon!
To view a clip of Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ys9Rh8Th5Kw&feature=youtu.be