Reviews Dance Published 14 May 2012

Snow White

Sadler's Wells ⋄ 10th - 12th May 2012

Dark undercurrents.

Sam Smith

Snow White is as Grimm as it gets. The original story contains some fairly macabre and shocking moments and, in the hands of choreographer Angelin Preljocaj, it also proves to be fertile ground for ballet.

Preljocaj’s name is associated with abstract ballets as well as grand narratives, but in Snow White – created in France in 2008 and now receiving its UK premiere – he revels in the fairy tale’s dark undercurrents. Across a series of twenty-two scenes, the audience watch as Snow White’s mother writhes in protracted pain only to die whilst giving birth, the heart of a deer ripped out, and the Queen is seen force feeding Snow White an apple in a manner that is almost sexual.

Virginie Caussin’s Snow White may be decked out in virgin white, but her dress hints at a more sensuous nature. Patrizia Telleschi’s Queen is all spiky insouciance; surrounded by Lycra-clad cats, she radiates jealousy, sexual frustration and potential brutality.

Preljocaj’s choreography is sharp, precise and technically accomplished; there are sexual undertones everywhere, even in the tiniest gestures, like a woman pulling her top from her shoulders. Elsewhere, in an otherwise muscular routine, there are hints of homoerotic attraction in the men’s final glances at each other.

Caussin’s Snow White and Sergio Diaz’s Prince excel in their several pas de deux. In a particularly inventive moment, Diaz stops Caussin from falling sideways by holding onto one foot, before momentarily supporting her whole body on the back of his head. More challenging still is the duet involving the ‘dead’ Snow White in which Caussin’s limp form is manipulated and Diaz is obliged to take the full strain of lifting and supporting her.

Jean Paul Gaultier’s striking costumes of cream and brown consist of skirts split up to the waist and loose shirts, which are visually dramatic while also perfectly designed for dancing. The score draws mainly on Mahler’s most dark and foreboding compositions. Particularly successful is the use of the third movement of his first symphony to accompany an aerial ballet of the dwarves (or miners in this version) as they dance suspended from safety cables.

Moments intended for light relief – such as in a ‘pat-a-cake’ dance between Snow White and the dwarves – feel frustratingly two-dimensional in comparison to the rest of Preljocaj’s work. This ballet is at its best when revelling in the horror; fittingly, the final image is not of the happy couple rejoicing, but of the Queen dancing herself to death in her red hot shoes.

Nagisa Shirai and Fabrizio Clemente will dance the roles of Snow White and the Prince for the evening performances on 11 and 12 May.


Sam Smith is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Snow White Show Info

Produced by Ballet Preljocaj

Choreography by Angelin Preljocaj


Running Time 2 hours (no interval)



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