By Patricia Boccadoro
"Mirror, Mirror, on the wall,
Who in this land is the fairest of all?"
PARIS, 24 JANUARY 2009 - Most people know the
tale of the childless
Queen who pricked her finger while sewing one winter, and
looking out at the three drops of blood which fell upon the
snow, longed for a daughter with skin as white as snow, lips as
red as blood and hair as black as ebony.
Blanche-Neige, the English translation being Snow
White, was one of the many stories that leading French
choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj read to his children, and on
which he finally chose to base his latest contemporary yet
highly romantic work, set to a sumptuous score by Gustav
Mahler. Premiered at the Biennale de Lyon in September, it was
presented at the Theatre Nationale de Chaillot in October and
the Theatre de St. Quentin- en- Yvelines in November.
"After Empty Moves and Eldorado I was getting
tired of creating abstract pieces and really felt a need to
tell a story," Preljocaj told me after a performance of his
ballet in Paris. "At the time, it seemed a most unlikely
choice, fraught with dangers," he continued, "but I wanted a
story that hadn't been fully dealt with before.
Cinderella, the Snow Queen, even Puss in
Boots have all been subjects of works, not to mention all
the great traditional ballets including Nutcracker,
Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty. Moreover, the
fact that it is such a well-known fairytale enabled me to
concentrate on developing what the body has to say; portraying
the feeling and emotions of the main characters by movement.
All I had to do was to remain faithful to Grimm's story, adding
my own interpretation of the symbols present, helped along by
Bruno Bettelheim's La Psychanalyse des contes de fees
which I read attentively."
CÃ©line Galli and LOrena O'Neill in Blanche
Photo courtesy of Ballet Preljocaj
From the dramatic and violent birth of the young princess and
the opening ballroom scene, despite unflattering costumes by
Jean-Paul Gaultier who dressed the corps de ballet in strange
little numbers, Grecian folds up top, far Western fringes down
below, the choreography was outstanding. A pas de deux
between two women became a pas de quatre, leading in turn to a
pas de six and so on, until there were some 26 dancers swirling
on stage. Inexplicably, the prince was dressed in salmon pink,
toreador style, while Snow White herself wore a weird
arrangement in white, half diaper, symbolic of a baby, and half
skirt, symbolic of her approaching womanhood, but neither
costume managed to mar the beauty of the choreography.
Preljocaj's pas de deux are amongst the most beautiful
created this century, and those in this ballet were no
A pas de deux between the heroine and her prince,
sublimely interpreted by Nagisa Shirai and Sergio Diaz began in
silence, with Diaz running diagonally across the stage, Shirai
balanced horizontally on one shoulder, before the steps were
repeated, this time to one of Mahler's magnificent symphonies.
In the second part of the ballet, in an impassioned duet, Diaz
succeeds in awakening the seemingly dead princess, dislodging
the poisoned apple stuck in her throat by the intensity of his
movements. He kneels in disbelief before the glass coffin
before prostrating himself with grief, and slowly slides her
inanimate body towards him. Snow White, as the audience knows,
is not dead, but in a trance, and so begins a pas de deux of
indescribable beauty, bringing to mind MacMillan's Romeo
with Juliet. But this time, the girl comes back to life.
Nagisa Shirai and Sergio Diaz in Blanche
Photo courtesy of Ballet Preljocaj
"Angelin just told me to let my body completely relax, and to
let it go where it wanted as if I was asleep," Nagisa Shirai
told me. "He guided our movements, knowing exactly the effect
he wanted. And as for my costume, after the initialâ€¦surprise,"
she added, "I forgot about it and let myself simply follow the
music and choreography." Small-boned, and slender, with
shining dark hair down to her waist, she was the incarnation of
Snow White, more than justifying the mirror's reply to the
wicked stepmother's query of who was the most beautiful in the
"Thou art fairer than all who are here, lady Queen
But more beautiful still is Snow White, I ween."
Costume wise, the wicked Queen Domina, majestically clad in
black and red with more than a few smidgens of sadomasochism
surrounding her, fared a great deal better. She dominated one
of the most terrifying and theatrical moments of the work,
forcing the poisoned apple into her rival's mouth while the
latter's seven small protectors were out working the gold
mines, and the ballet rose dramatically to a peak when the
unearthly figure of the long-dead Queen flew down from the
netherworld to gather her daughter up in her arms, only to
return through the air to lay the princess' quiescent body
gently back down to earth; it was not yet time.
The chic and tasteful dÃ©cor by Thierry Leproust swept one
instantly into a magical land, from the evocative beauty of the
sombre forest, leading to the glittering mountain of
enchantment worked by the seven dwarfs, who came down from the
heights, spiraling through the air on wires in a ballet of
Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She has
contributed to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and
was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf
Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for
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