Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snow White

Photo/Daniel Perez

It's important to stress that this is a complement, especially to those unfamiliar with Company XIV's work, but their triumphant new show, a family-friendly "baroque infused" version of Snow White is Austin McCormick at his worst. Which is really to say that McCormick can do no wrong. Even though his hands are somewhat tied with all the pandering and mugging to the kids lounging on a series of pillows in the front row--he still manages to paint compelling stage pictures without the erotic tension of Le Serpent Rouge or the burlesqued energy of The Judgment of Paris.

How impressive is McCormick's aesthetic? He manages to get kids to listen, raptly, to the three-toned a capella of Charities (Brooke Bryant, Brett Umlauf, and Amber Youell), who are the voice of the Magic Mirror, and to watch Snow White (Yeva Glover) dance a chaste balletic solo. At the same time, he convinces the adults to bear with dim shadow-puppet dwarves by having the Narrator (Nick Fessette) show off his range of voices, and helps us deal with the necessarily repetitious bits by showcasing the Wicked Queen (Gioia Marchese) and her wide variety of glowers and gloats. His art--and let's call it that--strikes an elegant balance between highs and lows: contemporary music backing a gypsy-themed dance; exaggerated acting from the Queen's ruses that's well-matched by the crisp, militarily precise dancing that backs it up.

And then, of course, his images, somehow managing to hold up even against the staying power of a Grimm fairy tale. When the Huntsman takes Snow White into the woods, a hart lopes by, elegant and strong. When the Queen brings Snow White a poisonous comb, it is with a troupe of dancers every bit as silly as their French wigs, including one who appears to be nothing more than a head on a pedestal. No longer is Snow White put in a silly glass coffin: instead, she sleeps, dead, in the arms of a tree, cradled near a luminous chandelier. The best moment comes when Snow White, lost in the woods, is caught by the sprites of the wood as a gentle snow blankets them. (The manipulation of the lead actor is either a staple of the baroque style or a signature move of McCormick's: either way, it's most welcome.)

There aren't "flaws" in this production of Snow White so much as there are limits. Though he stretches the story to accommodate various styles of dance (and certainly of wardrobe), it's not as free as the previous two parts of Company XIV's "Apple Trilogy," nor is it as interactive with the audience (which is surprising, given that many of them are children). And cool ideas, like the baroque opera trio, sour over time, a too-static piece of an otherwise fluid world. Snow White may not measure up to McCormack's other work, but that must not hold you back: it's still absolutely enchanting.

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