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Who's the Fairest?
The Milwaukee Ballet's "Mirror Mirror."

                                   Photos by Mark Frohna courtesy of Milwaukee Ballet Company.

There is a little something for everyone in the Milwaukee Ballet’s new production of Mirror Mirror, unless you’re a kid who wants to chuckle over the zany antics of Doc, Sleepy or Grumpy.

Michael Pink’s balletic treatment of Snow White goes straight to the source, the old German fairy tale that was put to print by the Brothers Grimm. And as with all fairy tales, it reaches for something psychological and richly elemental in the story it tells and the characters it imagines.

In that reach, Mirror Mirror recalls theater styles from the early modern era, when Freud and Expressionism was all the rage. Todd Edward Ivins’ set pieces are a little bit Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and a little bit Antonio Gaudi. Trees are snaky, metal sculptures that hold both apples and lurking minions. And the mirror is revealed via a dungeon-like doorway that could be a gate to Gehenna as much as a place to powder your nose. David Grill’s lighting brings out the most in the set’s razzle-dazzle, alternating between sun-dappled settings for country romps and ominous gloom of the stepmother’s world.


Philip Feeney’s original score—sharply conducted by Andrews Sill—is a savory collection of modern romantic styles. There’s a touch of Vaughan-Williams for the pastoral scenes, a sprinkle of Bernard Herrmann and Leonard Bernstein in the darker passages. There’s even some ominous electronics and wordless vocals, not surprising to anyone who frequents the fantasy-heavy repertoire of today’s movie theaters.

Pink’s choreography is eclectic—as it needs to be. There are old-fashioned ensembles that are firmly rooted in the tradition--country-dance inspired soirees that set the bucolic tone of the story. And his use of mime as a storytelling tool is clear and precise, often compressing time with theatrical slight-of-hand that takes us from Snow White’s conception to birth to maturity in a few well-orchestrated moments.


But the real thrills here are in the darker sections, most of which feature Susan Gartell as Claudia, the stepmother. She preens, she seduces, she overpowers her foes and sends them tumbling through the mirror into the abyss (one of Ivins’ design highlights). And she has more than capable partners in Ryan Martin and Alexandre Ferreira. For all the cool calculation of her evil intentions, she generates considerable heat. She’ll dance the part in the remaining three performances. It’s a performance you don’t want to miss.

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