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Ballet Preljocaj Portrays a Lustful Snow White

This latest rendition is certainly not the Walt Disney version of Snow White. The collaboration between choreographer Angelin Preljocaj and haute couture fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier presents audiences with a dark, ambiguous and complicated contemporary ballet based on the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tale.

In it, Snow White is depicted as an Oedipus-like figure, with Gaultier daring to dress the princess in shock value outfits with a low-cut white dress hanging by a thong.

“I have followed the Grimm Brothers’ version, with just a few personal variations based on my own analysis of the symbolism in the tale,” says Preljocaj, a self professed lover of fairy tales, who has created something magical and enchanting in the completely original way.

Born in Paris, Preljocaj has intensively studied both ballet and modern dance. His creations have become the repertories of many famous dance companies, including Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris and his own dance company, Ballet Preljocaj.

Regardless of the awards he won – including the “Globe de Cristal” for the Best Dance Show of the Year, 2009, in France for this version of Snow White – his work is distinctly modern and full of highly original choreography. He favours concentrating on the bodies themselves, the energy and the space to create indirect narration and guiding his audiences predominantly through evocative gestures.

Telling a story through dance is never easy, but rarely boring. It offers choreographers a unique way of framing a narrative. “I do not melt theatre and dance,” says Preljocaj. “I usually add colours in the movements, to enhance the narration. For example, when the huntsman has to kill Snow White, I have imagined a certain body language to express unkindness, cruelty.”

Preljocaj uses all of his imagination to do justice to this classic fable. In the pas de deux between the girl and her wicked stepmother – where she is seduced into eating the poisoned apple – Preljocaj let the stepmother shoves the apple into the young girl’s mouth and holds it there slowly and cruelly. It is “perfectly in its sadistic voluptuousness.”

He also uses acrobatic steps when the seven dwarves first emerges from the forest. While the prince’s desperate duet with his lover’s lifeless body elicits strong emotions from the audience.

Obviously, to choreograph a fairy tale for adults, the simple version of Snow White is not enough. “The wicked stepmother is without doubt the central character in the tale,” says Preljocaj, “She is the one who I examine through her narcissistic determination not to give up on seduction and her role as a woman, even if it means sacrificing her stepdaughter.

“This is very contemporary. Nowadays, women are more and more beautiful and look younger. Mothers don’t want to be considered as mother only; they don’t want to let go their status as women, as lovers. It’s the internal conflict of a mother who, seeing her daughter growing up, is afraid of losing her position in society.”

Preljocaj also wanted to create a more lustful version of Snow White, “In my performance I’ve created a lover garden,” he says. “Couples meet and seduce each others: I wanted something carnal. Jean Paul created costumes with lingerie. The clothes are sublimated; dreamlike…It’s really sensual and poetic at the same time,”

Gaultier, who didn’t receive any formal training as a designer, is a legend in fashion industry. His costume designs for singers Mylène Farmer, Kylie Minogue and rocker Marilyn Manson have garnered a lot of attention over the years, as has his long term contribution to the fashion label Pierre Cardin.

“When Angelin contacted me for Snow White I couldn’t say no,” says Gaultier, with pride. He sets about freeing Snow White from her traditional high-collar blue puffy dress. The costume he designed show more flesh, set the girl’s legs free, and revel in the transparency of her skin from her bare feet to the top of her buttocks.

As Gaultier explains; “Angelin’s vision of Snow White was not the same as the Disney one. He wanted to portray her as very sensual. That is why we were looking for a costume that would express her pureness but also her sensuality.”

Among all costumes Gaultier created for 24 dancers, his favourite is the one belonging to the stepmother, who is wrapped in the black chiffon and perched in high heels. “I think it’s not only my costume but the way that role is performed which makes it very strong,” he says.

Rewriting a classical ballet is not news in today’s world; successfully pushing the boundary between modern dance and ballet seems to have become a strong tendency leading many contemporary ballets. However, with powerful choreography and design, Preljocaj has managed to set his Snow White apart. The piece is embedded with real jealousy, aging and sexuality in a timeless fairy tale, and without kitsch – it is a show you don’t want to miss.

Originally Published in The Global Times

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