The Fairest of Them All

Ballet’s Mirror Mirror ingeniously retells the Snow White story in a big, magnificent production.

By - May 16th, 2014 11:51 am
Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo Mark Frohna

Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo Mark Frohna

If you have yet to see a performance by the Milwaukee Ballet Company, there is no better time than now. Artistic Director Michael Pink’s Mirror Mirror is a true feat – a world premiere ballet of Snow White cleverly retold, and it’s magnificent.

The Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra performs the score of composer Philip Feeney’s new work, created for Pink’s vision. It’s easy to forget the power of a live orchestra until it’s filling up the room, and this particular score was charming and dark and thunderous, heightening every step of the choreography.

Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo Mark Frohna

Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo Mark Frohna

While the ballet is a world premiere, it helps that the skeleton of Snow White’s tale is there to grab onto. The curtain opens to reveal a woman in a yellow dress, in a forest-like setting, being handed a sparkling object. The audience may think “aha! The magic mirror!” But Pink twists the story, as we learn that the woman is Snow White’s mother, Beatrice (Valerie Harmon), not the evil queen we’d expect from the Disney version.

The opening group number introduces us to a delightful town surrounded by apple trees (aha!), where Beatrice and her husband Josef (Davit Hovhannisyan) live. They dream of having a daughter, and through the course of the dance, Snow White is born, grows into a child (Georgina Pink), and finally emerges as a young woman (Nicole Teague). The rapid succession of time is choreographed seamlessly, and plays out like a magic trick. The number of dancers on stage in a big number like this never ceases to amaze me – more than 15 dancers create an effortless ebb and flow of movement.

But the first scene to really take my breath away was at the point of Beatrice’s death. She separates from the group, everyone disappears, and the lights and music turn dark. Then the shadows enter (Annia Hidalgo, Mayara Pineiro, Parker Brasser-Vos,and Ryan Martin) and wrap Harmon in trailing black fabric. The execution was beautiful, and the simple genius of the idea grabbed me, as if this was the only way death should be indicated in a ballet.

We’ve been introduced at this point to Snow White’s friend Gustav (Alexandre Ferreira), who echoes Prince Charming. After Beatrice’s death, we also meet Snow White’s new stepmother Claudia (Susan Gartell), who soon steals the show. She’s mean and beautiful and slinky and awful, and Gartell plays the role fabulously. She comes to inherit Beatrice’s magic mirror, setting in motion the dark and familiar tale.

I’ll take a moment here to gush over the costume and scenic design, created by Todd Edward Ivins. Claudia especially was a thrill to look at, lurking and slithering in dresses, skirts, masks and bodysuits that screamed “evil.” The demons of the mirror (Barry Molina, Marc Petrocci, Isaac Sharratt, and Jose Soares) were also impressive, in their dark, sparkling bodysuits with masks fitted over their entire heads, not unlike a fencing mask. The set design managed to be beautiful, strange and functional all at once, with the dancers moving pieces around to create different scenes in a snap. Claudia’s boudoir is particular memorable, housing the infamous mirror, done up as an enormous, unfolding vanity with a mind of its own.

Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo Mark Frohna

Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo Mark Frohna

While the dark moments in Mirror Mirror were the standouts, with creepy, aggressive choreography, moments of warmth made for beautiful duets between Teague and Ferriera. After first being introduced to her new stepmother, Gustav approaches a grieving Snow White, who needs her friend’s shoulder to cry on. Ferriera soothes and cradles Teague, who allows herself to be lifted, slid across stage and held. The body language is spot-on without crossing into overkill – which is true of every scene of Mirror Mirror.

The production also features the talents of the Milwaukee Ballet School & Academy, who acquit themselves well as the children and young adults of the town. Teague and Ferriera are at the center of it all as the love-struck couple, performing with such tremendous chemistry that the movements at times felt more improvised than choreographed.

The beauty of having so familiar a story as the work’s foundation is we can easily follow it even as it’s retold in surprising ways, with no words spoken, because the language from the dancers is clear as a bell. The iconic Snow White moments – the poison apple, the suffocating bodice, the glass coffin – all make their appearance but are magically reinvented. This is a show that may have interest for other dance companies in the world, it’s that good.

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