Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ballet Preljocaj & Jean Paul Gaultier's "Blanche Neige" Comes to the US

Ballet Preljocaj's Blanche Neige (modified poster)
I started a draft of this story early in the week but was unable to finish it and I'm now glad I didn't. I originally focused on the world famous fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier and his unique take on Snow White for Ballet Preljocaj's Blanche Neige, which is finally touring the US. Despite that it was Gaultier's collaboration that initially caught my eye (that's the Gaultier of the infamous cone-shaped bra for Madonna's Blonde Ambition tour in 1990), the more I read about the work, the more I wanted to share other aspects of this new-to-us Snow White as well (the ballet actually debuted in France in 2008 and has since won awards). From a study of strong females and the evil queen, through to comments from the choreographer on the story of Snow White's relevance today, there's a few treats ahead in the excerpts.

Note: Ballet Preljocaj's Blanche Neige is a contemporary dance work, not a traditional tutu ballet.

I'll begin with this wonderful article by  of The Davis Enterprise who's actually familiar with Grimm's Little Snow White and fairy tales in general so, amongst the images of Gaultier's amazing costumes, I'll give you excerpts from here and a few other places.
From The Davis Enterprise on the ballet itself:
I grew up reading fairy tales — the real ones — before political correctness and cultural “sanitization” took place. They were stories of love and terror, of cruelty and revenge, of retribution and atonement. Good ultimately conquered evil, although there was often a price to pay, by both victim and perpetrator. 
Choreographer Angelin Preljocaj understands this in his bones. And he certainly speaks the language of fairy tale, fluently and faultlessly. His “Blanche Neige” (“Snow White”) is a stunning, visually opulent, work that captures the Grimm fairy tale version exquisitely.
On the story and characters of the ballet:
The entrance of the pregnant mother, danced by Nuriya Nagimova, her slow progression as she toils across the stage, desperate in childbirth, says a great deal about the power of well wedded movement to sound. The appearance of seven miners (not noted in the program) out of caves, high above the stage, rappelling down a rock wall, dancing vertically and horizontally above the stage, was unexpected and joyous, toying with our expectations that dance happens on a flat surface and is bound by gravity. 
Also captivating: the reappearance of the dead mother, materializing from above, hovering over and lifting her dead daughter momentarily, before leaving. 
There are small, but crucial choreographic touches that convey the story. The passage of time, between the King finding the baby, and Snow White’s growing up, is neatly conveyed by a simple, yet effective, use of set. The King moves behind a column of material, the baby sheltered in his arms, only to reappear with the young girl, beautifully portrayed by 9-year-old Camilla Pedrosa of Davis. (McKenna Lincoln, 10, of Woodland, danced the role Sunday.) Dancing with his young daughter, he circles yet another column, this time reappearing with Snow White as a young woman, danced by Virginie Caussin. 
The cats, minions of The Queen, were perfectly matched and moved sinuously across the stage, menacing and mischievous. Dancers Natacha Grimaud and Lorena O’Neil were perfectly suited for these roles. Athletic and elegant, they were able to convey both the bonelessness of languid felines and their willingness to play with prey. 
The Prince, danced by Sergio Diaz, made a marvelous partner for Snow White. While their opening interactions at the ballroom were everything they needed to be, it was the duet of the prince and the dead/unconscious Snow White that was incomparable. A pas de deux with one partner required to act limp and unresponsive calls for strength, timing, trust and true connection.
(Edit FTNH: Sounds like choreographer Kenneth MacMillan's tomb pas de deux of Romeo & Juliet - which is also amazing and heart wrenching.)
Did anything not work for me? An opening scene at court went a little long. Also, the program notes, by Preljocaj, state his belief that the wicked stepmother is, to him, the central character. I didn’t see that at all. But all in all, these are very small things, nothing compared to the torment of the wicked stepmother, forced to wear red-hot iron shoes and dance to her death.
On the costume designs (source):
“Snow White has this beautiful flowing costume, but it’s almost nonexistent on the side,” said Renae Williams Niles, director of programming at the Music Center. “So you see far more of Snow White than you ever thought you would.” 
...(Jean Paul Gaultier's) costumes make it to the Music Center thanks to Angelin Preljocaj. The artistic director of the French ballet company and choreographer of the work said there’s a purpose to the revealing elements. The outfit shows both the character’s childhood purity and how she is in the process of becoming a woman.“The costume is half [a] costume of a woman and half [a] costume of a child,” he said in heavily accented French. 
In terms of costume design, it’s hard to get more contemporary than Gaultier. The fashion icon, who worked for Pierre Cardin before launching his own label, brings his unique style to all of the outfits while maintaining perfect harmony with the rest of the production, according to Niles.
(from  shopfair:) The costumes were designed by Jean Paul Gaultier and really suited the modern interpretation of the classic fairytale choreographed by Angelin Preljocaj to music by Gustav Mahler. The designs ranged from subtle JPG touches like straps and suspenders to full-blown JPG with the stepmother's bondage queen outfit (which was wonderful) and the best use of fringe I have seen this year (pictured on the right). "This is not the first time that Gaultier designs clothes for dancers. He has collaborated with Régine Chopinot, the choreographer, for 11 years in the past(1983-1994), during which he had sewed costumes for –more or less- 18 ballets choreographed by Chopinot.
And excerpts from a completely different sort of review fro a 2009 performance, focusing on the evil queen, by Claudio from iHeartBerlin,de:
Being a fairy tale expert and a psychologist I was always indulged by the strong female characters appearing in Grimm’s fairy tales. I appreciated their impact in the stories as an evil and intense element of the plot. One of my favorites has always been the evil queen of Snow White who is obsessed with her vanity to the point where she loses everything.
...If I had to describe the style and the feeling the piece was giving me I would say that it is a great mixture between a stylish gothic music video and a really classical nice Midsummer Night’s Dream production. What perhaps sounds like an odd combination results in an emotionally touching balancing act between both styles. 
...Most intriguing was obviously the charming Beatrice Knop who proved herself as an enormously powerful solo dancer. Especially in her mirror scenes I totally believed that she was doing real magic instead of dancing. Also the scene where she kills Snow White with the apple really had a disturbing intensity. I literally saw the poison entering the body through the movements of the witch. (Read the whole review HERE.)
And finally, some very interesting comments on his Blanche Neige from the choreographer, Angelin Preljocaj (who, by the way, is referencing Bettelheim):
Preljocaj said the fairy tale remains relevant today, in the age of plastic surgery and other ways that women can remain young-looking.
"It's a very modern story, in the sense that today with scientific and medical progress, women can stay young and beautiful for a long time," said the choreographer. 
"That creates a potential conflict between generations. Daughters, faced with mothers who want to remain lovers, desirable and active socially, can develop a kind of Snow White complex."

"Generations are coming together. You often see 50- or 60-year-old women in the street with their daughter, dressed the same, swapping clothes and handbags. They can even be love rivals."

As with the upcoming big screen versions, Preljocaj's production does not follow the Disney version of the fairytale, rather putting more focus on the cruel stepmother. 
"It's the same as with 'Swan Lake', with the black swan and the white swan: Snow White is the positive character, beautiful and pure, while the stepmother is the opposite, also beautiful, but dark and hate-filled," he said.

"Snow White' is "really a thriller," he said. "The story of 'Sleeping Beauty' can be told in two lines. 'Snow White' is full of twists... leading to lots of ways of interpreting it choreographically." (source)

Here's a video of excerpts from the ballet. though the first courtier scene is a little long, the rest of the video is very dynamic and shows off choreography, costumes and the Snow White story beautifully:
For it's US debut gala at the Mondavi, Magrit Mondavi, Don Roth and Jeremy Ganter got together round table style to discuss Blanche Neige of KVIE's Studio Sacramento. It's about 20 minutes long but for anyone who likes theater and ballet production as well as Snow White, it's worth watching:
Watch Mondavi Center on PBS. See more from KVIE.

I've only seen ballet school versions of Snow White so to see a full-length professional work, complete with world famous set and costume designer collaboration would be amazing.
"Snow White" will be staged in Los Angeles from March 23-25, before heading to the East Coast at the end of March, through to April 21. The US cities where the work is to be performed include Washington, DC, Minneapolis, Minnesota and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (source)

1 comment:

  1. I love everything I see in this post. I love the set the and the costumes. Maybe I should have something like this in my Ballet Program Phoenix.