“Who’s the fairest of them all?”
MILWAUKEE — Jealousy, vanity, the quest for attractiveness – common enough. But what happens when these things become all consuming? That’s the slippery slope that Michael Pink’s Mirror Mirror explores in his reimagining of Snow White which Milwaukee Ballet will perform from June 1-4 at the Marcus Center.
Premiered by the company in 2014, this contemporary ballet shines the spotlight on Snow White’s wicked stepmother, but it doesn’t present her as a stock character, arched-eyebrow villain from the very beginning of “once upon a time.” Rather, it delves into her descent from an everyday fairytale inhabitant to a calculating, cold-blooded murderer. No dancing dwarves or Disney princesses here.
But most fairytales aren’t lacking in evildoers, so what was it about Snow White’s stepmother that lured Pink into creating a full-length production about her? “The stepmother in Snow White plays a greater part in the narrative than stepmothers in other folk tales,” said Pink, who has served as Milwaukee Ballet’s artistic director since 2002. “Her obsession with the mirror and wanting to be ‘the fairest of them all’ really drives the story. We see most of the action from her point of view. Exploring the darker side of characters like the stepmother usually offers many more dramatic complexities.”
And like fairytales, classic story ballets of the past aren’t lacking villains either—no surprise there since many are based on folklore. Mirror Mirror contains a little echo of Swan Lake’s White Swan/Black Swan motif in the bird imagery that Pink assigns to Snow White and her stepmother: a dove and a raven. The production also features good old-fashioned pointe work, corps dances, and a pas de deux—but all channeled through a modern lens.
Mirror Mirror’s world of magic and maliciousness is additionally brought to life by Emmy award-winning lighting designer David Grill, New York-based costume and set designer Todd Edward Ivins, and British composer Philip Feeney.
Grill regularly lights the stages of Milwaukee Ballet and his work is seen productions from Dracula to La Bohème to The Nutcracker. Ivins designed costumes and sets for the company’s Dorian Gray in 2016 and is slated to work on next season’s premiere of Beauty and the Beast.
Feeney, no stranger to story ballets, created scores for England’s Northern Ballet as well as Milwaukee Ballet’s Dorian Gray and Peter Pan. According to the composer’s website, Pink’s psychological reading of Snow White influences the sonic storytelling of the dance work: “This is directly represented in the music by an agitated swirling phrase that proves to be the predominant musical gesture in the ballet. From its very opening sequence, this swirling conjures up a world of demons that inhabit the mirror, embodying dark forces of self-obsessed vanity and compulsive narcissism.”
So, just how far does Mirror Mirror’s exploration of evil go? Spoiler alert: good still triumphs in the end.
Mirror Mirror runs June 1-4 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., Milwaukee. Tickets start at $34 and are available online at milwaukeeballet.org, or by phone at 414-902-2103. Mirror Mirror contains mature themes. Milwaukee Ballet recommends it for ages 9 and up.