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Dance review: Ballet Preljocaj's 'Snow White' at the Music Center

March 25, 2012 |  9:01 am

Snow White
Ballet Preljocaj’s “Snow White,” seen Friday at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, was Grimm indeed, with the ballet hewing to the fairy tale’s original ending of macabre justice for the evil Queen: Forcibly strapped into coal-fired iron shoes, she danced to her death.

Such retribution was to be expected from French choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, whose imagination is far more simpatico with the Brothers Grimm than with Walt Disney. His 25-member company from Aix-en-Provence has presented a diverse repertory at local theaters since 1998. That oeuvre of balletically tinged modern pieces unblinkingly depicts humanity in full spectrum. In the choreographer’s naturalistic and messy world, humans are crude, naive, joyous, sexual and violent, in equal doses. It’s part-Pieter Bruegel, part-Henri Rousseau and, at its most edgy, part-Quentin Tarantino.  

Despite some slow passages, Preljocaj has successfully turned “Snow White” into a poignant and magical adult story, one that's definitely not for small children. There are the familiar elements: The Queen has her magical mirror. Snow White finds protection with seven “dwarfs,” who played clapping games with her when not scuttling up and down a sheer rock wall — some exceptionally nifty aerial stunts were seamlessly blended into the choreography. 

For his score, Preljocaj stitched together recorded selections from nine symphonies by Gustav Mahler, usually an unsatisfactory musical treatment. It worked here because each interlude was framed by an electronic soundscape from new-music group 79D. The overused Adagietto still packed a punch as accompaniment for Snow White’s awakening scene.  

The presence of Snow White’s mother, who had two prominent cameos, signaled the choreographer’s ultimate intentions. He opened the ballet with the Mother (Nuriya Nagimova) staggering across a dark and smoky stage. She gave birth and then expired, holding her child. Dead, but not gone, she returned as a soaring angel to momentarily lift and comfort her daughter. Perhaps Preljocaj wanted to give solace to the audience too, a witness to Snow White’s gruesome murder. Never has death-by-poison-apple been so shocking, with the Queen wielding that fruit like a long knife and dragging poor Snow by her head.  

Love was triumphant, however, and gave the ballet balance, thanks to scenes of frolicking lasses and lads. The choreographer’s finest achievements were in three glorious pas de deux for the Prince and Snow White. The second was as ravishing as any love duet from “Romeo and Juliet” (which this ballet recalled at times). Fabrizio Clemente, as the Prince, and Nagisa Shirai, as Snow, were stunning, beautifully depicting an arc from shy innocence to gleeful abandonment and then the despair of possible loss.

The second scene was overly long, taking place in a palace of golden patina, at a lively celebration marking Snow’s coming of age. (Thierry Leproust did the stark and imaginative set designs.) A corps of 16 entertained with exuberant folk-like dances, concluding with three gentlemen presenting themselves for the princess’ approval. Snow actually selected her Prince and they began a tentative courtship, until the Queen (Gaëlle Chappaz) made her entrance to shards of lightning and thunderclaps.

With costumes by fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, the Queen was an S&M vision in high heels and strips of black leather, thigh-high tights and cape. Her getup didn’t allow for much more than stalking about, kicking her legs and whipping curses with her arms. Not surprising then that Chappaz was most effective in her final solo, when she was stripped to a leotard and those deadly clumpy shoes.

Interesting, too, that after a brief wedding scene, a scrim came down to separate the doomed Queen from Snow White, the Prince and their party. It was left to the audience to bear witness to evil’s demise. Preljocaj made sure there was nowhere else to look.

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— Laura Bleiberg

Ballet Preljocaj, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles.  2 p.m. Sunday. $28-$110. (213) 972-0711 or www.musiccenter.org

Photo: The Queen (Gaëlle Chappaz) sees  Snow White (Nagisa Shirai),  with the "dwarfs," when looking in her mirror, during a performance of "Snow White," by Ballet Preljocaj, at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Credit: Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times


 
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