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Last Wednesday, April 4th, I had the opportunity to see Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White (or Blanche Neige, as it is known in the company’s native French) at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill, NC. In lieu of a full review of the show, I’d like to highlight specific things that the show did well – specifically, the ways that this production rose above the sometimes predictable shortcomings of classical ballets.

Snow White takes a bite of the Queen's poison apple

Characterization

Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White featured two dancers as black cats, seven as dwarfs, and a soloist as a boar throughout the course of the performance. The dancers adapted their movements to mirror the nuanced behavior of their respective characters; the cats moved with agility and grace, infused with a certain cat-like curiosity, while the dwarfs moved with a heaviness, toiling away at their work but infusing humor into the show at choice moments.

Though Snow White is by no means the only ballet with non-human characters, contemporary ballet inherently allows more choreographic freedom; in other words, choreographers are not limited to strictly classical ballet movement vocabulary. In this case, the inclusion of modern dance, aerial, acrobatic and robotic movement made the dancers more believable in their fantastic roles.

Watch the video below to see what I mean. You’ll see the cats at 1:10 and again at 1:48 in the live mirror scene. The Dwarfs appear at 2:10 as they scale their coal mine.

Lamentation

Classical ballet productions like Romeo and Juliet, Giselle and Don Juan (among many others) feature dances of death and lamentation, but the accompanying sets of choreography often cheese up the heavy emotions they aim to convey. See what I mean in this over-dramatized excerpt from Romeo and Juliet.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vPGhMeez-ZQ]

Ballet Preljocaj Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj used the death lamentation scene in Snow White as an opportunity for a genuinely emotional pas de deux. Dancer Nagisa Shirai, who danced the role of Snow White, remained passive for about seven minutes as her partner Fabrizio Clemente lead her through turns, lifts and inversions.

You have to see it to believe it:

Pacing

Though Ballet Preljocaj’s production of Snow White ran for nearly two hours with no intermission, the show consistently kept audience members engaged. Often when I watch classical ballets, I find that party scenes, wedding scenes and the like often drag on for what seems like forever. But this phenomenon is not unexplained; because classical ballet choreographers (or re-constructors) try to uphold the structural integrity of any given ballet, they tend to use the respective ballet’s complete musical score. While this is practice is admirable, it sometimes results in overkill (and a bored audience!).

Snow White kept its audience and its dancers engaged at all times. Here, Snow White dances with the Prince.

Have you seen the show? What else about this production deserves recognition? Leave me a comment to let me know!

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