West Australian Ballet: Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs -
His Majesty’s Theatre, 21 November -
Originally created in 2004 for the Hungarian National Ballet, Gyula Harangozó's Snow White and the 7 Dwarfs was enthusiastically received by young and old on its opening night in Perth. And seated beside a delightful, eleven-year-old dance-devotee companion, it was not difficult to appreciate being transported back to a reassuring 'once upon a time' world with a guaranteed happy ending. West Australian Ballet dancers showed that they not only know how to dance, they also know how to win over an audience.
This version of Snow White pays its dues to the original 1812 Brothers Grimm fairy-tale as well as to the Disney film classic, and is set to a rich, filmic-quality score by Tibor Kocsák, with many references to recognizable melodies. Brilliantly played by West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Wolfgang Heinz in his customary, intuitive style, it provides just the right tone for this production. And stage designs by Kentaur and costumes by Rita Velich effectively capture the look of illustrations from a picture book, which are brought to life by Jon Buswell's skilful lighting.
The ballet's prologue further establishes the production's storybook origins as the dwarfs haul a large Snow White 'book' onto the stage, open the pages and reveal an image of the evil Queen. We then journey into a bygone era to scenes set in the palace garden, the evil Queen's room with the magic mirror, the forest, down the mine, and inside the dwarfs' house. With props galore, flights of stairs, a live bird, dry ice, smoke, firecrackers, butterflies and a wayward cuckoo clock, there is rarely a dull moment.
Florence Leroux-Coleno was an enchanting Snow White. She danced exquisitely from her first solo with a live, white dove perched on her hand as she bourréed around the stage, to the final celebratory grand pas de deux.
Matthew Lehmann danced and partnered strongly, and managed to convey a sense of humanity and gravitas as the troubled Huntsman. Christian Luck made a handsome, old-school Prince and danced impressively in his solos and several pas de deux with both Snow White and the Evil Queen (Polly Hilton). Hilton danced splendidly and delivered cruel, withering looks in grand style. A star turn by Daniel Roberts as the 'Queen disguised-as-a witch' drew loud applause, and Monsters Claire Hill, Victoria Maughan and Melissa Boniface danced impressively and were lively and mischievous.
The hugely popular 7 dwarfs were clearly retirees from the ministry of silly walks. With jaunty, bent-legged swaggering Doc (Robert Mills), Happy (Ben Kirkman), Sleepy (Liam Green), Sneezy (Leonardo Laurent Mancuso), Dopey (Andre Santos) and principals Jayne Smeulders as Bashful and Sergey Pevnev as Grumpy, they made a formidably funny group and no doubt had great fun themselves in the process, as did the audience trying to work out who was whom behind the masks and costumes. Santos as Dopey won many hearts yet again with a captivating performance of astonishing virtuosity.
Leroux-Coleno, Luck, and Lehmann were often the straight 'men' to the antics going on around them, and they did it expertly, with suitably subtle reactions. The choreographic style can be described as classical meets pantomime with a twist of vaudeville, and melodrama and slapstick humour softening some more sombre scenes. Several comic sections will no doubt get even broader and funnier as the season goes on.
Along with many spectacular scene changes, other highlights include memorable pas de deux, clever references to other ballets, and a great overture played before the second act.
Fittingly, Dopey finishes the story when the Snow White 'book' re-appears. On opening night, Santos was cheered as he slammed the page shut on the heartless Queen.
- Margaret Mercer