Another Look for Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Mirror Mirror’

Another Look for Milwaukee Ballet’s ‘Mirror Mirror’

Marize Fumero shines darkly as Snow White’s evil stepmother in Michael Pink’s dazzling and dynamic dance-story.

A narrative juggernaut that rivals the storytelling drive of a Hitchcock thriller, Michael Pink’s Mirror, Mirror is a story ballet that doesn’t skimp on story. Sure, there are the requisite pastoral hoedowns at the beginning of each act. But there are real chills in the psychosexual dynamics that pit Claudia—Snow White’s evil stepmother—against anyone who challenges her preening narcissism.

This is a revival of a Milwaukee Ballet original that premiered only three years ago, but there is ample reason to put it in front of audiences once more. Pink’s theatrical sense—and his choreographic chops—are at their best here, and the company rises to the occasion. There’s spring and spark in the ensembles, which show off the precision and vitality of the corps. And there is ample opportunity to highlight the more classical work of Davit Hovhannisyan (Gustav) and Nicole Teague-Howell, particularly in the lovely second act pas de deux.

But it’s the dark and sexy stuff that gives this ballet its special tang, and Thursday night the erotic mood was embodied deliciously by Marize Fumero as Claudia, the evil stepmother. (Lahna Vanderbush will dance the role Friday and Sunday.) Fumero is sexy, sinuous and has the sort of leg extension (the ability to stand on one foot and bring the other leg to a straight vertical) that makes Claudia seem like a creature from another world.

But her performance isn’t just about the legs. In Pink’s scenes of acrobatic seduction, Fumero exudes temptation, but just as quickly shifts to lacerating anger. She works her charms on the three male principals here (Arionel Vargas as Josef, Snow White’s father, Patrick Howell as Wilhelm, Gustav’s father, and Hovhannisyan). And the scene with Hovhannisyan is particularly spectacular, full of limb-twisting reversals and contortions as her prey’s resistance is gradually worn down.

Nicole Teague-Howell and Davit Hovhannisyan.
Photo by Mark Frohna.

As with the debut production, the fabulous dancing is set against an equally spectacular backdrop: Todd Edward Ivins’s surreal set of serpentine apple trees, David Grill’s deep, plummy lighting design, and Philip Feeney’s often propulsive score (here, richly played by Andrews Sill and the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra).

So please, forget about spending the first weekend of summer at the local multiplex. The celluloid Wonder Woman will be around for weeks to come, but Mirror Mirror’s otherworldly creatures–and their timeless story of good and evil–are here in the flesh for only this weekend.

Mirror Mirror continues at the Marcus Center, with performances on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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Paul Kosidowski is a freelance writer and critic who contributes regularly to Milwaukee Magazine, WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and national arts magazines. He writes weekly reviews and previews for the Culture Club column. He was literary director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater from 1999-2006. In 2007, he was a fellow with the NEA Theater and Musical Theater Criticism Institute at the University of Southern California. His writing has also appeared in American Theatre magazine, Backstage, The Boston Globe, Theatre Topics, and Isthmus (Madison, Wis.). He has taught theater history, arts criticism and magazine writing at Marquette University and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.