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Milwaukee Ballet's 'Mirror Mirror' Returns to the Marcus Center

May. 23, 2017
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Image Credit: Tom Davenport

The hair-raising tale of Snow White dramatized by Michael Pink in his ballet Mirror Mirror hews closer to the folk tale of the Brothers Grimm than to the Disney film that scared me as a child. At its center is a mirror that reflects and amplifies the character of anyone who gazes into it.

It falls like a beautiful star into Snow White’s mother’s lap, only to doom her when it draws the ravenous Claudia to the peaceful apple-growing town founded and led by Snow White’s dad. Snow sees her mother murdered and her father charmed into marriage with Claudia all because this interloper wants the mirror. Why? Because it tells her she’s on top, that she’s the fairest in the land. But the demonic mirror has its own designs and Claudia is ultimately devoured by it. When Snow comes of age and the mirror names her fairest, Claudia loses control and seeks to kill the girl. In Pink’s telling, Snow finds refuge not with dwarves but with a group of society’s outcasts, including seven children. There’s she hunted by Claudia, twice killed and twice resurrected. It’s a moral tale of tyrannical narcissism in battle with something that can’t be killed, something akin to simple decency supported by community bonds.

Milwaukee Ballet’s voluptuous production was performed just four times in May 2014. It featured unforgettable sets and costumes by Todd Ivins, smashing lighting by David Grill and a musical score by Philip Feeney worthy of Tchaikovsky. Now thoroughly reconsidered, reworked and substantially recast, Mirror Mirror will return for four performances.

“The opportunity to revisit a major work is so rewarding because the skeletal structure is there and now I get a chance to really dive in and fill in the fine details,” Pink said. “The first time around, we had 24 rehearsal days to create Mirror Mirror from a blank slate. It’s a testament to our artists that we did it. I defy any other company in the world to do what we do.”

“Seeing a production the first time,” he continued, “I make notes: OK, I’m missing moments there; I need to develop that more; this doesn’t make sense. I write it all down and when it comes back into rehearsal I just systematically work through all my notes. I’m changing a lot this time as I find we’re on a roll and I think, hmm, we need to go here, we need to go there. My hope is that this will be the definitive version.”

Claudia stands beside Dracula among Pink’s most powerful choreographic creations. Both characters change from human to animal: in Claudia’s case, a raven. Pink’s Snow White is no sissy either but Claudia is the show’s tragic hero. And just as Pink’s Dracula rips up ballet conventions and his Peter Pan looks sadly at the passing of youth, Mirror Mirror has dance world references.

A giant mirror fills the wall of the rehearsal room where I watched Pink create a scene with Claudia (Marize Fumero alternates with Lahna Vanderbush) and the Demons of the Mirror (Patrick Howell, Barry Molina, Garrett Glassman and Wyatt Pendleton). While Pink, prompting, watched the dancers, they intently watched themselves in the mirror, inventing, adjusting and improving the look.

In this scene, a coat that will tighten around Snow White and suffocate her is conjured by the Demons for Claudia. The goal is to make the coat appear to float of its own will from the closet to Claudia’s shoulders in one continuous phrase that builds to an exultant bird-like pose with Claudia’s spine extremely arched and the crimson underside of the garment forming wings. It’s a demanding task for the men who must slide in creepy character along the floor while keeping the coat’s movement steady as it opens, closes, curves and rises in time to the music. The dancers are playful; they joke; they offer good ideas. The scene is seconds long but an hour later it’s still unfinished.

“There’s so much work within this,” Pink said. “There are two big steel trees that are 19 feet tall. The poor demon guys who have to live in these things, even now we’re rediscovering what they can do up there; it’s continuously evolving. When I say go up the tree, I don’t say how you go up the tree; they find out how they go up the tree.”

This season, Pink has seen successful productions of his Dracula and Peter Pan in Orlando, Fla., Columbus, Ohio, and Cannes and Paris, France. “My fingers are crossed that Mirror Mirror will start to have a life of its own now,” he said. “It’s worthy of any company in the world. There are dancers out there who, like our guys, could do amazing things with it. It’s a huge challenge. It’s not provincial, not parochial.”

7:30 p.m. June 1-3 and 1:30 p.m. June 4 at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St. For tickets call 414-902-2103 or visit milwaukeeballet.org.

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