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Snow White - Vienna Festival Ballet at Theatre Royal Windsor

Published by: Kate Braxton on 10th Nov 2016 | View all blogs by Kate Braxton

Suspending our disbelief is part of the pure magic of theatre. I enjoy seeing things in a fresh light. But as a creature of comfort, I also like to see tradition respected.  The Christmas season may be upon us, but the story of Snow White doesn’t have to be a panto. It can be ballet, but woe betide any production that drops the dwarves.  

With this in mind, it’s easy to see why Vienna Festival Ballet and its world-class, classical heritage, borne out of the city of music, culture and arts is enchanting followers across the globe. I’d go so far to say that their production of Snow White, currently gracing the stage at Theatre Royal Windsor is a true fairy-tale of a show. It’s not perfect, but it is a wonderful celebration of progress. 

The plot is familiar, the interpretation, loyal and engaging. The Queen of a faraway land is obsessed with her own beauty, and seeks the reassurance of her magical mirror that she remains “the fairest of them all”. One of her subjects, a handsome huntsman, takes her fancy. But he becomes mystified with the beauty of another – Snow White – who she sets out to kill. Snow White meets dwarves – check - is tricked into eating a poisonous apple, the Huntsman saves her, they fall in love and The Queen is remorseful, but forgiven.

All of the theatrical elements of a classical ballet experience are lovingly woven together here, then generously offered to us like a neatly-wrapped gift, under the artistic direction of Peter Mallek. Having been taught by a former pupil of Alexander Pushkin, Mallek’s illustrious career saw him dance alongside Rudolf Nureyev, and partner Dame Margot Fonteyn. You just know you are experiencing this art form at the hands of a master, which the production is joyfully celebrating. It is aware of the richness of its own quality, yet remains humble, with personality and accessible. It is brimming with traditional values and modern twists, but is far too disciplined to burst with them.

The costumes are romantic, detailed, charismatic and intelligent; sensational gowns fit for a palace ceremony, flittery, pastel organzas of the nymphs, cartoon-like, droopy dwarf matching onesies; each costume is considered and styled for consistent charm and a glint of surprise.

The musical arrangement compiled by Alan Lisk and choreography by Barry McGrath have the fit and confident presentation of a sleek glove. Even when jaunty, energetic and playful, classical dance boundaries are pushed with the inclusion of modern personality, but never too much to derail the wholesome artistic intention. Balance.

The Queen’s evolving emotions through the story are exquisitely captured by Jodi McKnight, who steals the show with her characterization. In the opening scene she preens in front of the mirror like the most grotesque of birds, and for me, the stand-out scene for all of its dramatic qualities is the cauldron dance, within a simple white spotlight on a blood red stage. It is mesmerizing, like Macbeth’s Witches Scene, without the words.

Rachael Victoria Hernon as Snow White is physically lighter than air and Huntsman, Dean Rushton has no challenges wrapping her about him, like a prized silk robe. I would have liked him to show more visual signs of emotion, but not quite as much as the male ensemble dancers, some of whom didn’t quite carry the distinction of finesse I may have expected of this company.

But the production is maintained at its supreme overall level through the artistic staging and lighting direction by John Graham, and additional choreographed touches by Emily Hufton. Beautifully painted floor-to-ceiling backdrops, coupled with immersive lighting gives layer upon layer of texture to each scene. An over-sized chalet pantry creates a clever trompe-l’oeil effect to right-size the dwarves into their diminutive shoes. But anything to do with the dwarves is pretty cool, particularly the hip-hop routine.

For whatever reason, you don’t expect to see this at your local theatre. A bit of European fairy-tale, an authentic Viennese waltz, I truly haven’t enjoyed ballet this much since I did it myself, aged seven. Christmas can include panto, but this Snow White was what it’s really about for me; taking me back to good times, and providing special memories for years to come.

Snow White is running at Theatre Royal, Windsor from:

Tue 8th Nov - Sat 12th Nov
Show Times
Tue - Sat 7.30pm Wed, Thu & Sat 2.30pm
Ticket prices
£13 - £31
Royal Specials £37 - £39
Box Office: 01753 853 888






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