Whether it’s the traditional fairytale by the Brothers Grimm, or Disney’s 1937 film adaptation, we are all familiar with the classic narrative of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. What many may not be so familiar with, however, is the dark and sinister retelling by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a story which is the inspiration for balletLORENT’s current family-orientated dance production.
There are many subtle differences to the much-loved animated Disney film, most notable of which is the fact that it is Snow White’s actual mother – not stepmother – who is jealous of her daughter’s beauty. This alteration offers the production a unique conceptual appeal. It touches upon themes surrounding parenthood, the fine line between filial adoration and resentment, and also one’s relationship with their reflection in the mirror. These allow the adult spectators to engage with the work on a deeper level, whilst the children present can marvel at the dance interpretation of Duffy’s captivating narrative and artistic spectacle.
Duffy’s words permeate Lorent’s Snow White in the form of an ominous voiceover by Lindsay Duncan. This audio explanation of the events occurring on stage is suitable for the context of Sadler’s Wells Family Weekend: it is reassuring for the younger members of the audience, and confirms that they have interpreted the meaning of the choreography correctly. Whilst effective, this audio narrative does not overshadow the choreography’s ability to communicate the plot and characters’ emotions. The dancers’ virtuosic movements engage the audience and help them to experience varying emotions at different points of the story of Snow White. There is humour as the mirror tells the Queen she remains the fairest due to her face lift and Botox; sinister disgust as she eats what she thinks is her daughter’s heart; and, following the joy of Snow White’s happy ending, a sense of foreboding from a subtle hint that the dramatic events will repeat themselves in a cyclical web of jealousy and psychological insanity.
The engaging performances by professional dancers are accompanied by a young cast of 5-9 year olds who are selected from the community in the vicinity of Sadler’s Wells (it is a different cast for every theatre on balletLORENT’s tour route). Whilst this demonstrates Lorent’s commitment to community engagement and inspiring a young generation, many of the scenes including the young cast last too long and do not offer enough visual stimulation to occupy the equally youthful audience. One almost feels that Lorent needs to consider if she wishes to involve children in her performances, or entertain an audience of children – it is questionable if both can be achieved simultaneously.
Despite the overarching dark themes and disturbing atmosphere created (questionably chilling for a show aimed at children), there are also light-hearted moments that I personally find the most charming demonstrations of choreography and character creation. Key examples of this reside in the scenes featuring the seven ‘miners’ (the equivalent of the seven dwarves) who work in the mines beneath the palace. They enter the stage accompanied by jovial, Balkan-sounding music and adorned with caps that shine beams, creating a choreography of light pathways across the stage and adding a new visual dimension to the work. Their hunched postures and stylised walks evidence a considered creation process that has produced bodily mannerisms perfect for depicting their characters.
We are all accustomed to dance works being recreations, adaptations and revisions of classic source material, and often they are unsuccessful due to not establishing enough variation from the original. This is not the case with balletLORENT’s Snow White. Lorent’s work gives the children’s fairytale a rebranding as a psychological investigation into self-criticism, and the mother-daughter relationship through the medium of contemporary dance, creating a work that all the family can enjoy on different levels.
Snow White was performed at Sadler’s Wells from 25-26 March and is touring until 9 April. For more information see the balletLORENT website.