Dance Review: Preljocaj’s Snow White at the Royal Ballet of Versailles

Blanche Neige by Preljocaj - The Wicked Witch

Preljocaj has done it again with a fantastic reinterpretation of the Grimm fairy tale Snow White. This is probably the 7th or 8th show of his that I have seen and I am still a fan. The previous remake I saw (twice actually) was that of Romeo and Juliette. With Snow White, everything clicks and looks amazing. The costumes were all from Jean-Paul Gautier and the music by Gustave Mahler and was sublime. Apparently, this show was first shown at the Théâtre National de Chaillot in 2008 and is in its second or third production at the beautiful but sombre (and thus appropriate) Royal Opera House in the Versaille Palace.

Poster from the 2008 production

Here is a rough synopsis from what I remember. I think I covered all the scenes although I have some doubts between Act 1 Scene 2 and Act 2 Scene 2 but here goes:

Act 1 – Prelude.  Birth and Youth of Snow White. The scene was particularly poignant with the death of her mother in childbirth. The clever use of screens during the dance with her father to show her as a baby, a little girl and a grown lady was clever.

Act 1 – Scene 1. Palace Ball. Snow White and her father presided over a well-choreographed ball of about 20-odd dancers. What I appreciated was how there was always some movement on the sides and along the back wall where Snow White and father were enthroned that gave the scene even more dynamism. The decor of the palace with the steel paneled wall and vertically rising thrones was sparse but perfectly appropriate to the mood and lighting of the scene. The symbolism of Snow White’s red scarf (used here and until A2S3) kind of escaped me though.

Act 1 – Scene 2. Entrance of the Wicked Witch and Flight of Snow White. The black velvet cape and high black heels of the evil witch were an incredible compliment to her character. The two cat/gargoyles were extraordinary and added to the oppressive atmosphere as Snow White is pushed out of the palace.

Act 2 – Prelude. Mirror #1. Our first encounter with the wicked witch’s mirror was a surprise – a huge mirror that – this time – reflected the witch back to her with the delicious cats frolicking about. I particularly appreciated the idea of putting the mirror in front of the curtain that served as a way for the scenery to be changed behind the curtain as well as show a more intimate space for the Wicked Witch’s bedroom.

Act 2 – Scene 1. Snow White and her Suitors. This particular interpretation has Snow White as quite the tart as she frolicks here on some rocks with about 6 suitors. Suggestive without being vulgar, the scene is a nice transition.

Act 2 – Scene 2. Reunion with the Prince. The appearance of the Prince in A1S1 was relatively subtle as we could barely see him as the sole suitor of Snow White. Here they dance a beautiful dance with no music and repeat the same with a string quartet background. This was one of my favorite duets of the show.

Act 3 – Prelude. Mirror #2. This time, the mirror shows Snow White as the most beautiful of all sending the Wicked Witch into a fury as she sends three paramilitary henchmen to assassinate her. The violence of her reaction was palpable.

Act 3 – Scene 1. Assassination Attempt. The forest decor was superb and pulled me into the scene. Snow White, of course, uses her lady charms to convince the assassins to let her escape. The quartet formed by Snow White and these three assassins was particularly well executed.

Act 3 – Scene 2. Dance of the Stag. The sacraficial stag that the assassins try to fool the Wicked Witch with was depicted with a very boxy and rigid solo by a dancer with horns which I found was one of the many high points of this show. The static movements really had an animal quality to them. Again, very clever and very beautiful.

Act 3 – Scene 3. Entrance of the 7 Dwarf-Monks. In probably, the most visually impressive piece, the dwarves enter like spiders on a cave-line wall in the rear of the stage. They fall and rise and spin and we are captivated by the poetry of the scene. The libretto actually calls them monks instead of Dwarves, I suppose because they were normal dancers and not really dwarfs. I loved the costumes once again as well as the dancing patterns of the 8 characters.

Act 4. Prelude. Mirror #3. The mirror now shows that Snow White has escaped her wrath and is frolicking with the dwarf-monks. Here the Wicked Witch opens the cage to free her cats (awesome image!) and transforms into the old lady with the poison apple. I loved it when she lets her hair down – literally – and prepares to meet Snow White.

Act 4 – Scene 1. Dance with the Dwarves/Monks. In another very sensual scene, Snow White dances with the 7 horny dwarf-monks. Once again, we find Snow White as a very sensual character, not necessarily faithful to her prince – perhaps in self-defense? One of the most interesting scenes had them sitting in a circle together dancing which was beautifully choreographed.

Act 4 – Scene 2. Poison Apple. The entry of the old woman was chilling as was the music chosen for the scene and the lightning bolt on the floor. In yet another of the impressive duets, the scene where Snow White bites into the apple and is led around the floor by the old woman was masterful and had incredible power as an image.

Act 4 – Scene 3. Laid Out and Dream of Mother. The idea to lean a glass pane on one of the rocks from A2S1 to lay Snow White out in state was great. As was the entrance of Snow White’s mother by a swing giving her a flighty, dreamy appearance however brief.

Act 4 – Scene 4. Dance with the Dead and Revival of Snow White. The Prince finds Snow White and executes probably the most skillful dance of the spectacle as he dances with a completely limp (because dead) Snow White. It was hard to not be moved by this sad funeral dance and feel elated that after the fateful kiss, she is back in life again.

Act 5 – Scene 1. Marriage at the Palace. Snow White returns to the palace and the marriage can finally take place. This scene echoes the initial ball scene. The impressive thing here was the fabulous wedding gown worn by Snow White. It was like a wedding cake but in tatters – a truly unique Gauthier creation and ever so memorable.

Act 5 – Scene 2. Death Dance of the Wicked Witch. Here was the most violent and sensual dance of the show as the Witch has her feet branded and dances until the curtain fall to a chaotic musical climax. This kept with the dark atmosphere of the whole show and was done spotlessly.

All said, the show captivates for the full 1h45 duration (no entr’acte) and you leave elated and amazed. Should it ever come to a theatre near you (last show on the 23 Dec is already sold out), run don’t walk. It will inspire you :)

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About mfinocchiaro

IT Architecture Guru for large PLM software company but dabbling in Web 2.0 and other stuff.
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One Response to Dance Review: Preljocaj’s Snow White at the Royal Ballet of Versailles

  1. Pingback: NSFCCDP Movie Review: Snow White and the Huntsman – preferred Preljocaj adaptation personally… | Fino's Weblog

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