Angelin Preljocaj takes inspiration from the darker aspects of the Brothers Grimm fairytale for his version of Snow White. Unlike Disney’s saccharine 1937 film, Preljocaj punctuates his ballet with brutality, taking the audience into a strange and primal world, filled with visceral sexuality and evil.
It opens with a pregnant woman writhing about the floor and fatally giving birth. The tone is thus set for the entire ballet; there is never a moment of joy without a counterpoint of bleakness. Even when a happy marital ending seems inevitable, the Queen is forced to dance herself to death in red-hot iron shoes.
The production’s Snow White (Nagisa Shirai) is not an innocent victim. At court, she crosses and uncrosses her legs with a sense of unfulfilled yearning that expose the character’s deepest sexual desires. Her costume, by Jean Paul Gaultier, embodies both her virginal naivety in its white, flowing chiffon and her potent passions in its figure-revealing slits and contours.
The Queen, Patrizia Telleschi, is more overtly lascivious in shiny black bondage gear and stilettos. Angular high kicks draw attention to her uncovered inner thighs and give a commanding sense of power. Accompanied by two lycra-hooded and gagged cat slaves, she is like an erotic dominatrix. Even the seven dwarfs take an unconventional form. They become spinning acrobats who somersault up and down a vertical cliff face.
The ballet has moments of enticing genius. The Queen forces the poisoned apple into Snow White’s mouth and drags the young princess about the stage, teeth gripping fruit, in a remarkable and mesmerising duet. The prince’s subsequent dance with Snow White’s limp body is equally stirring and cleverly conceived. But there is also a lot of hollow, uninspired movement that seems to fill time rather than take forward the story or create any visual enticement. Gustav Mahler’s music is similarly hit and miss.
Preljocaj takes Snow White into a modern, dark and seductive realm that isn’t always enthralling but never fails to surprise.
By Laura Dodge