Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White

Um…did I just attend the ballet, or an extended routine at Love & Rockets (if you’re not from Brisbane, google it)? Yes, the Gaultier-designed costumes were a whole lot classier than a g-banger full of $10.00 notes, the scenery more subtle (and, I’m guessing, less sticky), and the music infinitely less pulsating than the local strip club…but, were it not for those things, I might be inclined to think the Ballet Preljocaj had transplanted me to the seedier part of town. Not that I’m complaining, but I’m fairly certain the front row copped more vagina than Shane Warne’s seen in his whole career, thanks to Snow White’s toga-come-mankini robe.

An Australian exclusive, Preljocaj’s Snow White is the latest in QPAC’s International Series, following offerings from Hamburg Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Paris Ballet and the Bolshoi. Based on the Brothers Grimm version of the story, it’s a sexy, grown up hybrid of theatre, ballet, aerial display, contemporary dance and catwalk. Featuring minimalist sets, clever lighting and the Queensland Symphony Orchestra playing Gustav Mahler’s symphonies (NB: the QSO has never sounded better under the baton of Johannes Fritzsch), it has all the hallmarks of a great contemporary dance spectacle. Which it is…except when it’s not.

Angelin Preljocaj’s inspired choreography was mostly well executed, though the ensemble pieces needed tightening, and the encounters between Snow White and her prince could have been cut down significantly in length without affecting the story’s progression. Absolute highlights were the arrival of the seven dwarves, who abseiled onto the set in a perfectly synchronized display of upside-down dancing; and the Queen’s mirror scenes, which featured two sets of dancers in mirrored movement that were so well executed, it was almost impossible to discern that the ‘reflections’ were in fact real people. The poison apple scene, which saw the Evil Queen disguised as an old woman dragging Snow White around by her face, was a tad too S&M den for me, but maybe I’m just old fashioned.

A few times during the show, I found myself a bit underwhelmed. The lighting was a little too subtle in parts; the art direction a little too minimalist (would it kill them to have an apple visible from the audience? Given its kinda the major plot point of the story…a dull red apple didn’t have much visual impact); and the costumes were in truth not as exciting as “costumes by Jean Paul Gaultier” might lead you to believe.

There’s been a great deal of hype surrounding the costuming in the lead up to the show’s premiere, and it absolutely eschews tradition by avoiding tutus, tights and ballet slippers completely. The dancers perform barefoot, with the exception of the Evil Queen, who has to negotiate her billowing gown in thigh-high spiked boots (no wonder she’s a bitch – I’d be over it too). Her outfit truly is show-stopping, with Gaultier pouring all his trademarks into her bustier, crown and girdle. Perhaps he used up all his creative juices it that one gown, as the rest of the costumes were far more restrained. I’m undecided as to whether chief inspiration for those came from Ancient Greece, The Sound of Music or, in poor Snowie’s case, ‘Brazilian swimwear meets saggy adult nappy’.

But you know what? I still walked out of there happy to have seen it, keen to see more from the Ballet Preljocaj, and pleased to know Brisbane is able to pull off the big shows.

Which brings me to my overwhelming thought as I left the theatre tonight…

Brisbane audiences really need to get their shit together and learn some audience etiquette. During tonight’s performance there was flash photography, a mobile phone ringing, people walking in and out like the auditorium was a transit centre, doors slamming, people talking loudly, an inordinate amount of coughing, and one row in front of me, a woman drunkenly snoring so loudly, I’m amazed she didn’t get credited as a member of the orchestra. It was like being at a Summer panto, not the ballet, and it’s downright embarrassing for a city that’s trying to be more than just a big ol’ country town. Brisbane, it’s time to grow up.

Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White

At QPAC until Sunday 11 September

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