DOWNTOWN LOS ANGELES - This isn’t the Snow White you’re expecting.
The most obvious hint is the costume the title character wears in the production of the fairy tale that will be performed March 23-25 by Ballet Preljocaj at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
“Snow White has this beautiful flowing costume, but it’s almost nonexistent on the side,” said Renae Williams Niles, director of programming at the Music Center. “So you see far more of Snow White than you ever thought you would.”
The outfit is by Jean Paul Gaultier. Yes, that Jean Paul Gaultier, the French designer whose many creations include Madonna’s infamous cone-shaped bra from her 1990 Blonde Ambition tour.
The costumes make it to the Music Center thanks to Angelin Preljocaj. The artistic director of the French ballet company and choreographer of the work said there’s a purpose to the revealing elements. The outfit shows both the character’s childhood purity and how she is in the process of becoming a woman.
“The costume is half [a] costume of a woman and half [a] costume of a child,” he said in heavily accented French.
The ballet’s well-known narrative is based on the version told by the Brothers Grimm, so expect it to be less Disney and more, well, grim. That’s part of what attracted Preljocaj to it initially. He first mounted the show in France in 2008.
“It’s very dark and very romantic,” he said. “There is a lot of action.”
The story begins with Snow White’s mother dying following childbirth and the beautiful girl being raised by her father. He marries an evil, jealous stepmother who eventually tries to have Snow White killed. The rest is familiar territory: the seven dwarfs, the poisoned apple that sends Snow White into a deep sleep, and the prince’s kiss that revives her.
Although those elements make it into the dance, they may be all that’s familiar to some audience members who take in the offering by the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center series.
“This is so different and so very contemporary in its approach,” Niles said. “They’re not en pointe in toe shoes. They’re not wearing the stiff traditional tutus that everyone knows.”
In terms of costume design, it’s hard to get more contemporary than Gaultier. The fashion icon, who worked for Pierre Cardin before launching his own label, brings his unique style to all of the outfits while maintaining perfect harmony with the rest of the production, according to Niles.
In addition to Snow White’s revealing gown, there is the evil stepmother, whose wardrobe Niles describes as “sleek, dark, fitted and dramatic.”
“[Gaultier’s] costume design works so beautifully with Angelin’s choreography that it doesn’t jump out at you. It just all works together,” Niles said. “It helps to articulate the movement. It adds to the visuals and really helps illustrate the intention of the director.”
Movement of Life
Preljocaj, who founded his Aix-en Provence-based company in 1984, began his career studying classical dance, but eventually turned to a more contemporary style. The results are obvious in Snow White, which draws on 25 performers.
“It’s a style coming from the natural movement of life in a way and becoming the movement of dance,” he said.
The 90-minute piece with no intermission is set to the music of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies, something Niles noted has been an increasing trend in recent decades in both the United States and Europe. The choreographers, she said, draw on the passion and the emotion of the Austrian composer.
The timing of the Downtown Los Angeles performances couldn’t be better, as interest in the fairy tale seems greater than ever. Two movies inspired by the story are being released soon: Mirror Mirror, starring Julia Roberts, hits theaters March 30, and Snow White and the Huntsman, featuring Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron, will follow this summer. The ABC series “Once Upon a Time” and NBC’s “Grimm” also mine fairy tale terrain.
Ballet, however, doesn’t often feature Snow White, Niles said, and that should allow people to view it without preconceived notions. (Contrast that with Sleeping Beauty, for which ballet productions date back to the 1800s.)
The idea is that there’s something fresh but familiar to the work — a mix of qualities that Preljocaj said he often sees in fairy tales.
“They help us understand our reality but in an imaginative way,” he said. “Also, it helps the children to have the courage to face realities. It helps children to become fully human.”
Snow White, he said, might speak to children whose parents have divorced and where the new spouse has become a kind of enemy.
Niles said the production — which is making its first U.S. tour — is popular with young people, including pre-teens, teenagers and college students.
“I think they’re drawn to things that are a little bit grittier and a little bit edgier. Everything doesn’t have to be so soft and beautiful all the time,” she said. “It’s a fairy tale, but there’s still something that seems a little real about it.”
Snow White runs March 23-25 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave., (213) 972-0711 or musiccenter.org.
© Los Angeles Downtown News 2011