balletLORENT’s depiction of the classic fairy tale was a dynamic and eclectic mix of both weird and wonderful, moving and dark, experimental and strangely familiar.
Anchoring the performance to the original Grimm brothers classic, the troupe treated the audience to an unexpected, relatable and almost personal depth to the underlying moral lessons of the story.
Staying true to the original, pre-Disney, tale the production portrays Snow White’s complex and evolving relationship with her real mother, not an evil-step mother at all. The focus of the story is indeed on the Queen mother, with Snow White being more of a representation of both the trigger and the resolution to all of the Queen’s internal changes, struggles and ambitions.
Likewise, the dwarves are no dwarves at all, but anonymous, overworked, agoraphobic subterranean miners. In the vivid scene of their first appearance, we are treated to a beautiful juxtaposition of the castle’s royalty on one side of the stage, bathing themselves in a steam of luxury, while the miners on the other side are huffing to provide this frivolity in a dark, steampunk-esque vision of injustice.
A young Queen wishes for a daughter of unparalleled beauty. Her wish is soon granted, and thereby begins the production’s exploration of human nature. The scene of a mother holding her child on an empty, dimly-lit stage soon after she loses her husband is a powerful one, and evokes very real feelings of family ties and the promise of a life-long bond.
That is not to be, however, as through a series of events, the Queen gradually spirals deeper into vanity-fed jealousy to the point of her ordering the resident Huntsman to murder her daughter and bring back her heart to be devoured.
This sudden and very sharp metamorphosis from a seemingly lasting family bond to desired murder and mutilation is the focus of the first act of the production. Through clever use of the set, brilliant score, sharp contrasts in lighting, musical crescendos and silence, this transformation could easily be seen and felt even without the background narration.
The proposed metaphor of nature (human or otherwise) is further explored via the seasons: the birth of Snow White brought spring on-stage through a visual feast of movement of the full cast including the young recruits, which was the apparent representation of new life and harmony.
Following the Queen’s submission to her demons, winter has taken over with longer shadows, stiff movement, blue hues and grotesque limb-twists. Nature’s dominance over humanity is all laid bare before the audience as age, insecurity, resentment, guilt, and vindication all mix into a tremendous colorful lesson to be learnt.
However, this production also mixes the very human notions of growing up and growing old with very shallow ones of vanity and the power of beauty, which lead to desperate, almost animalistic urges. The Queen’s affinity with pretty things grabs hold to the point of her own demise.
Moreover, she raises her daughter in her own image – that is the bittersweet ending to the production, demonstrating the endless vicious cycle of vanity, showing the inevitability of nature and that some wisdom can only be acquired with age.
I was therefore glad, and not surprised, to see that the majority of the filled-up theatre were adults, as this production delivered on a promise to be a far cry from the innocent happily ever-afters of the commercialised Snow White.
Prior to the performance, I was fortunate enough to conduct short interviews with two members of the cast. Calypso Barclay, aged nine, is a member of the young cast recruits, and this was her third show with balletLORENT, and Natalie Trewinnard who plays Snow White.
To sum up her feelings about Snow White, Calypso, who’s been dancing with the troupe since she was six, and who plays the significant role of the doe who is slaughtered for her heart, said: ‘I really enjoy the style of this performance, how modern it is, as you don’t have to wear ballet shoes, but still feel like you’re doing ballet. You can take a simple thing and perform it in a way like you’re dancing’ (she proceeds to demonstrate a very graceful swing of the arm).
When asked about her journey as a dancer and what part performing with balletLORENT has to play in it, she responded: ‘I really like it, we have lots of fun, we are taught how to do things more creatively and we get to see and learn from the main dancers too. I want to keep dancing, would love to be Snow White some day’.
Indeed, the energy around the rehearsal space where we were doing the interview was palpable, with the air vibrating with a dozen children’s laughter and foot patter. Similarly, the energy and eagerness they brought to the stage was raw and powerful and helped further fuel the protagonists’ expression.
Natalie confirms this, stating: ‘The young cast bring such a fresh element to the show, their energy and raw talent constantly keep us inspired and on our toes. They have the freedom to add to the piece creatively in their movement. We encourage and help them to continually develop that’.
This solid and mutually beneficial partnership clearly bears fruit, as innocence and experience blend in both skill and theme in this impressive production. I give a huge thumbs-up to the troupe’s decision to return to the dark Gothic origins of the Grimm classic, reminding the world of the bitter, but very real and timeless truths the authors were trying to convey and warn against. The performance was a visual and technical showstopper, its surprises and quirks were unique and perfectly executed.
When asked to describe this production in a word, Calypso chose ‘spectacular’, Natalie opted for ‘refreshing’. I would call it compelling, and follow that up with a strong recommendation.