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Milwaukee Ballet's 'Mirror Mirror' Comes of Age

Jun. 6, 2017
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Photo credit: Mark Frohna

There’s so much to say about Michael Pink majestic Mirror Mirror, now that it’s complete. I’ll start by noting that every moment is clearly the collaborative creation of director/choreographer Pink, composer Philip Feeney, lighting designer David Grill, scenic and costume designer Todd Edward Ivins, the Milwaukee Ballet dancers, technicians and orchestra with conductor Andrews Sill. The opening night performances by Nicole Teague-Howell as Snow White, Marize Fumero as her nemesis Claudia and Davit Hovhannisyan as her boyfriend, Gustav, were beyond outstanding.

Any serious reservations I had at this ballet’s premiere three years ago are gone. I do worry a bit that unless audiences read the program notes in advance they’ll find the narrative perplexing. It’s not the Snow White story we grew up on. Even for ballet, the style is high non-realism: symbolist, surrealist, almost classically avant-garde and yet wholly original.

Feeney’s overture sets a chilling mood. The severed top of a tempting apple, its chopped underside fang-like, fills the upper half of the Uihlein Hall stage. An eerie apple tree appears. A woman sleeps beneath. The first move is by a demon in its branches. It drops a mirror into her lap. The passage of time is marked by dancers in white with streaming white banners. Soon the woman and her husband hold a baby. Moments later, she’s a playful child embraced by her community. Moments later, the satanic element enters this Eden in the form of a raven-headed creature with demons holding mocking black banners, tools to murder the child’s mother. The raven fascinates the husband (a moving Arionel Vargas), then transforms into a woman, inflaming his desire. The raven is Claudia. Pink’s extreme choreography and Fumero’s jaw-dropping flexibility underline her mythic nature. She’s a goddess of vanity. She covets the mirror. She’ll remake Eden in her image. The child is Snow White, who resists.

Who’s the fairest of them all? This ballet speaks of moral beauty, not physical; goodness means care for the well being of others, evil means self-obsession. Powerful Claudia, increasingly alone, becomes the mirror’s victim. What moved me most by the end was Snow White’s character as presented by Teague-Howell with untiring grace and feeling. Pink and Feeney close the story not with true love’s kiss but with the joyous reunion of father and daughter and a formerly outcast community of folks who refused to mirror Claudia. It’s a necessary optimistic ending.

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