Snow White, Sadler’s Wells, London

There are those evenings at the ballet when you know that (as Fred Astaire declared) “There may be troubles ahead”. So it was at the Wells as the Preljocaj Ballet from Aix en Provence exposed a staging of Snow White to a London audience.

Was there no more convenient hill-side? Angelin Preljocaj is Franco-Albanian, his choreographies – how lightly one uses the word – displayed by several troupes. Yet this affair I found to be of bruising tedium as the Grimm fairy-tale was made relevant and a comment on women’s “quest for eternal youth”. (The staging is a graveyard of clichés, danced, dramatic and political.)

In a programme note Preljocaj assures us that he was “keen to tell a story” and, thus, Snow White. But why poor Mahler, whose symphonies are bent to his weird purposes? Why this grotesque court, dressed in the height of modish fatuity by Jean Paul Gaultier and reluctant to wear shoes? Snow White, played as a stalwart and deeply uninteresting girl, wears an unflattering white shift for the larger part of the event without a slipper to her name, save in an apotheosis when she acquires a skeletal crinoline and unbecoming court shoes. Her Prince is, unwisely, in a curious zipped pink body-hugger, with braces.

Preljocaj tells his story in unrelenting fashion, movement burdened with hermetic gesture, and resembling nothing so much as a cross between weight-training and the more dispiriting aspects of early American modern dance of the Denishawn era. The characters are caricatures – the dwarves as abseiling miners on wires, the Wicked Queen a vehement dominatrix attended by two cats. And symphonic moments from Mahler roar ever onwards, hatefully amplified, while the cast are manipulated with an energy over and above the call of drama, though at no point are they of dramatic interest.

The staging, played without an interval for some 110 minutes, has the merit of handsome design by Thierry Leproust, admirably lit by Patrick Riou. A forest scene in which hunters kill a deer is brilliantly atmospheric – whence the stars for this spirit-lowering event.

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