Michael Pink’s original ballet ‘Mirror, Mirror’ probes the underlying themes of Snow White

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A wicked stepmother, a poisoned apple, a demon-filled magic mirror and haute couture. What more could you ask for in the balletic retelling of a classic folk tale?

The Milwaukee Ballet’s world premiere of Michael Pink’s production Mirror, Mirror recounts the Snow White legend with an imagined backstory, beautiful costumes and innovative sets.

But the Seven Dwarves are deliberately absent from the production.

“I wanted to get away from Disney and did not want this to be the standard Snow White story,” says Pink, whose ballet premieres on May 15 in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall. “It’s the struggle between dark and light, between good and evil, and between two beautiful women. I know that because all my dancers are beautiful.”

Pink developed his first draft of the ballet in 1999, and continued revising it over the years. His original backstory to the folk tale, which is distinctly different from the fairy tale or film version, is a darker, more sophisticated and slightly twisted telling of the story.

In Pink’s narrative, the audience learns about Snow White’s parents and the idyllic community in which they lived. A falling star captured by Snow White’s mother Beatrice becomes a magic mirror. The couple and their community live in an apple orchard amid peace and harmony.

But then things change when Beatrice dies, leaving Snow White under the growing influence of her evil stepmother Claudia. The magic mirror, which Claudia covets, is filled with marauding demons that prey on human weaknesses, most notably Claudia’s vanity. The apple, of course, becomes a symbol of menace.

It’s the power that folk tales and their role as morality plays have over our lives that initially drew Pink, the ballet’s artistic director, to the story.

“Folk tales are the bedrock of many modern children’s stories, and this one is a psychological drama as well,” Pink says. “This is about people in compromised positions who eventually triumph in the end.”

Mirror, Mirror marks the third collaboration between Pink and composer Philip Feeney. They also worked together on Dracula and Peter Pan. But the most recent collaboration takes the two artists in a new direction, Pink says.

“This is the first time we’ve entered a surreal world rather than strived for an authentic setting,” Pink explains. “The sounds Philip is creating don’t have to be specific to a certain time or place. (That’s) given him more freedom and more of a challenge.”

Todd Edward Ivins dresses Claudia, danced by Susan Gartell, in black. Details of her costuming evoke raven-like imagery. Feeney’s musical interpretation of the character builds on that by incorporating “crow calls” and swirling motifs suggesting flight, Pink says.

Snow White, performed by Nicole Teague, is dressed in virginal white. Her costuming and musical themes liken her to a dove. David Grill’s lighting design enhances the contrast between the characters as light and dark, good versus evil.

Some of the most compelling characters in the production are the demons who inhabit the mirror. Four identical faceless creatures escape the glass and work their malevolence directly on the characters. Claudia’s vanity makes her particularly susceptible to their influence, Pink says.

“The demons represent an alter ego and move Claudia to action,” says Pink. “They are a driving force in the narrative.”

In the end the mirror cracks, allowing the handsome prince Gustav, danced by Alexandre Ferreira, to save the day. Good ultimately triumphs over evil.

Despite the serious themes underlying Mirror, Mirror, Pink believes that children will relate to the production by viewing it through the lens of the Snow White legend. 

“I want the adults to be challenged, and I want the children to see this story come to life,” Pink says. “They will interpret the story through their own eyes, and it will be something gorgeous to look at.”

On stage

The Milwaukee Ballet’s production of Michael Pink’s Mirror, Mirror runs for four performances May 15-18 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts’ Uihlein Hall. For more information, visit www.milwaukeeballet.org.

Michael Pink’s ‘Peter Pan’ to be broadcast on PBS

Ballet fans throughout the United States will get the chance to learn what Milwaukee Ballet fans have known all along when Michael Pink’s ballet Peter Pan takes to the airwaves April 18 in a nationally televised PBS broadcast.

Filmed in 2010 by Milwaukee Public Television, Peter Pan is one of the earlier collaborations between Pink and composer Philip Feeney. All the tricks and trappings familiar to Milwaukee Ballet fans, including the mid-air dual between Pan and Captain Hook and a pirate ship that sails across the stage, are highlighted in the production.

The performance features Milwaukee Ballet leading artist Marc Petrocci as Pan and rising star Valerie Harmon as Wendy. The broadcast begins at 8 p.m. on April 18 on PBS stations throughout Wisconsin and the nation.

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