Of all the things to be tempted with this holiday season, nothing is so tantalizing as Company XIV’s production of Snow White which lures audiences to 303 Bond Street with all the seduction of an evil queen extending a shiny, beautiful, apple in order to cast a magical spell. One thing is certain – there is definitely something bewitching the spectators who walk in innocently and emerge 90 minutes later – filled to overflowing with images of exquisiteness and spectacle. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.
The lights are hung, // The wires strung, // The sets are all painted and built
The make-up’s applied // And I’ll say it outright: // The gold you will see is just gilt.
The kingdom and forest is plastic and steel // But the dancing feet are real.
And so begins the narrator’s speech as Jeff Takacs (who, as with all of the Company XIV productions, is responsible for the adaptation of the work, and has written the script) welcomes the audience to Snow White, conceived, choreographed and directed by Austin McCormick. It’s the perfect way to begin a fairytale: with the truth — that all the dazzling bells and whistles which make this show shine are remarkable, but take it all away and you’d still have the amazing dancers, executing the superb steps created by McCormick. However, between the whirling and the witchery is where the wonder lives.
I have long since left all expectations at the door when it comes to Company XIV and Austin McCormick; the only thing I can be sure of is that the show will be dazzling, delightful and richly textured in a perfect blend of media and styles. And so it is with Snow White – which immediately beguiles the audience with a Gothic-inspired funeral scene sung beautifully by Lauren Michelle. What follows is not just dancing but aerial silk, aerial hoop, acrobatics, and mixed media.
What I’ve come to love about McCormick (as a director) is that if a work of his is labeled “family friendly” it does not mean he has diluted his vision for the young ones; if anything, he challenges the wide-eyed tots in a way that invites them to appreciate a world of pure imagination – a world that hides nothing and therefore allows for everything. Rather than stripping away elements so that children can grasp the story more fully, McCormick actually layers in more complexity so that a younger sensibility is served alongside that of the adults. I envy the children who are growing up with Company XIV as an example of what theatre can be; they are being given memories that will spark them to create amazing things on their own, rather than walk in the footsteps of what they see being churned out by Hollywood in order to sell more happy meals.
This Snow White hasn’t been altered much from the original Brothers Grimm fairy tale – there’s the death of the queen, mourned throughout the land, who leaves behind her sweet little girl with skin as white as snow, hair as black as ebony, and lips as red as roses. There’s the evil stepmother who is so vain that she can’t go a day without demanding that her magic mirror confirm that she’s the fairest in the land. There’s the inevitable moment when Snow White (Gracie White) grows into her beauty and outshines the Evil Queen (Laura Careless) prompting the queen to hatch all sorts of plots which include death by hunter (hunter fails), death by suffocating corset (untied by a raven), death by poisoned hair comb (pulled out by a fox) and finally the worst of all – the poisoned apple which sends Snow White into a deep sleep. Later she is awakened by the charmingest of Princes with a kiss, the two marry and the Evil Queen gets her comeuppance.
What McCormick has done is changed the focus of the piece; while the title may be “Snow White” the best moments are given to McCormick’s muse and principal dancer, the fantastic Laura Careless, who clearly sinks her teeth into the role of the Evil Queen as deeply as Snow White sinks her teeth into the poisoned apple. Careless’ full range of talents are on display in this production, not only does she dance through each scene with an awe-inspiring fervor but she clearly displays a wonderful gift of accents and even humor. Having watched Ms. Careless over the last few productions I was delighted to see this side emerge – while she never fails to amaze it was wonderful to see her in a role that had so many opportunities to showcase the campier side of her (seemingly limitless) talents.
Of course, leave it to McCormick to have the audience thrilling to the darker side of such an innocent tale.
For her part Gracie White as Snow White is lovely; she has all the charm of an innocent young maiden who seems to never learn that an evil queen is out to get her. The aerial work she does on the hoop is delicate and elegant and she often seems to defy gravity as she is hoisted and held and dropped before being caught at just the precise moment, all while smiling peacefully.
Of course, there is no one element of the piece that could exist without the other; McCormick has hit on a formula that works and employs a team that does extraordinary things with lighting effects (Gina Scherr), video projections (Corey Tatarczuk) and repeating musical themes. So talented are they that set designer Zane Pihlstrom even make it snow — beautiful glittering bursts of sparkling snow that flutter and disappear … just like this production soon will. So get your tickets now and give yourself the best holiday present of all.
~~~Snow White Choreographed, Conceived, and Directed by Austin McCormick Written by Jeff Takacs . Bond Street Theater 303 Bond Street (between Union and Sackett Streets) Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, NY . Dec. 2-Jan. 15, 2011
Fridays at 7 pm, Saturdays at 3 pm and 7 pm; and Sundays at 3 pm. . Tickets are $35 for adults, $30 for seniors and children under 17. Click Here to purchase tickets For more info, visit www.companyXIV.com