I’ve seen a good few dance productions targeted at children over the last few years, from Ballet Black to English National Ballet School, and by and large they all work and keep young people amused and enthralled. And there’s nothing like an audience of tots, and a bit older, all concentrating on the stage and lapping up live art that’s not on a phone or big screen. Steadily more companies are targeting the market and that’s terrific in my book. But I have to say that Liv Lorent’s Snow White was in a different league to much of what I’ve seen in terms of artistic endeavour – it’s not a cut-down production or seemingly done on a budget but it’s bold, high on imagination and a show that I think genuinely appeals to all ages. You don’t need kids in tow to enjoy it. And that’s rare.
First thing to say is that it’s not a Disney version of Snow White but goes back to the original Brothers Grimm story in which it is Snow White’s mother, the Queen, who tries to dispatch her daughter for being prettier then her. The hero is not a prince but a huntsman and servant of the palace. You see a deer killed, the queen eat its heart (thinking it’s Snow White’s), the apparently dead Snow White, under a shroud, grieved over by the miners (not seven dwarfs), and all the young children in the production. Children feature much, augmenting the 11 dancers to provide a stage groaning with interesting action. From the local Vittoria Primary School they don’t dance as such, but run, skip, pretend to be rabbits, make merry or sad and look as entranced as us at what is a magical end to the show in Snow White’s wedding.
The BalletLORENT dancers really know how to act in such a physical theatre piece and are a variety of ages and have a “come as they are” look – so the huntsman has receding hair and a bald patch. It perhaps sounds like a cheap point but it actually looked right and honest – it’s life, as is finding yourself part of a very dysfunctional family. I really liked that there were such a variety of people on stage, some trained, some not, some seasoned, some not.
There are two other ingredients that make this production a cut above normal: a narrated script by Carol Ann Duffy and the set designs of Phil Eddolls. Eddolls (amongst other things) has been responsible for Mark Bruce’s Dracula and more recent Odyssey sets – designs which morph this way and that and often place dancers above the stage. The designs here are particularly strong with centre stage an over-size dressing table and mirror on which much action takes place. But then the set rotates and you find yourself in a magical forest and, rotated another way, the home of the miners in the forest. Stunning work and supported well by Libby Everall’s costumes – particularly for the miners. Carol Ann Duffy’s script augments and supports the stage action. Beautifully and dryly narrated by Lindsay Duncan it explains exactly what’s happening in a quirkily factual way. Nobody in the theatre gets lost in watching this fairy story. The music and soundscape of Murray Gold support the action well – loud and boisterous when needed and I much liked the the dreamy choral sections.
I came out of the show on a big high and, thinking back, that rather surprised me because it’s not a show big on choreography and if there is one thing I like it’s to see quality movement at the service of what’s on stage. There are not lots of danced sections and what there is is confident, but, as with Matthew Bourne, the secret here is the quality and thoughtfulness of the total package.
I find it interesting that a new generation of ballet choreographers are busy trying to learn how to put narrative work on stage, not always successfully at all, but in BalletLORENT, Rosie Kay Dance Company and Mark Bruce Company we have seriously capable hands. See them, folks. It’s taken me a while to catch up with Lorent but my goodness I won’t miss much from here on.