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'Mirror Mirror' world premiere reflects well on Milwaukee Ballet

Susan Gartell as Claudia with demons (Barry Molina, Marc Petrocci, Isaac Sharratt, Jose Soares) in "Mirror Mirror"
Susan Gartell as Claudia with demons (Barry Molina, Marc Petrocci, Isaac Sharratt, Jose Soares) in "Mirror Mirror"
Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Ballet Company. Photo: Mark Frohna. Used with permission

Mirror Mirror

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Last night, May 15, was the world premiere of Milwaukee Ballet Artistic Director Michael Pink's "Mirror Mirror." This new, darker version of "Snow White" takes a closer look at the evil stepmother's background and her growing motivation to kill her stepdaughter. A large audience gathered to see this brand new production and none left disappointed as a result of innovative lighting at set design, inspired costumes, and original musical compositions and choreography.

Claudia (Susan Gartell) and four demons (Barry Molina, Marc Petrocci, Isaac Sharratt, Jose Soares) in front of mirror in "Mirror Mirror"
Claudia (Susan Gartell) and four demons (Barry Molina, Marc Petrocci, Isaac Sharratt, Jose Soares) in front of mirror in "Mirror Mirror"
Photo courtesy of Mark Frohna, used with permission

"Mirror Mirror" puts an original spin on a classic tale that practically everyone already knows. The tale begins with Snow White's birth and her mother's demise soon afterwards. Claudia, the evil stepmother, quickly steps into Snow White and her father's lives after the family loses their matron. The audience is treated to the building relationship and rivalry between Snow White and Claudia as the power struggle between the two drives the villain deeper into her evil motives for ending Snow White and achieving total power and beauty.

This alternate telling of the classic tale is easily just as much about Claudia as it is about Snow White. While Nicole Teague danced the role of Snow White beautifully, last night's performance was undoubtedly about Claudia, danced by Susan Gartell. The role of Claudia is one that requires a range in physicality as she seduces, manipulates, charms, and destroys those around her.

Gartell shows incredible physicality and skill as she's frequently en pointe, creating an intimidating and domineering presence. She artfully shifts from an animalistic crouch alongside her four demons to a stretching, writing pose as she seduces and manipulates the leading men into aiding her rise to power. Gartell's emotionally expressive portrayal of this highly physical role transforms her into into one of the most evil femmes fatales ever seen onstage.

While Gartell undoubtedly steals the show, on can't fail to mention Teague's ideal portrayal of Snow White. She performs the role with all the light, childlike grace one would expect for the character. Snow White's friend Gustav, portrayed by Alexandre Ferreira, is essentially the Prince Charming of this tale. Ferreira is worth remembering in this role as his powerful leaps and turns impressed the audience into mid-performance cheers and applause. This production is ideal for a large ballet company because, even though the story focuses on Snow White and Claudia, there is rarely (if ever) a moment when at least four other dancers aren't dancing alongside them. There are a few busy scenes and many elaborate ensemble pieces.

"Mirror Mirror" is a much darker, abstract version of the classic tale that stays closer to the original Grimm fairytale than the Disney movie. Because of this, some scenes can be quite morbid and may not be best for very young children looking for a cheery ballet version of they Disney cartoon. And though this is a dark, at times macabre, retelling of "Snow White," it ends in a moving, sweeping romantic piece with an appearance by Snow White's father who seems to come from nowhere after a long absence, but nonetheless adds to a triumphant finale.

The original composition, choreography, and set/costume design are very unique and immerse the audience into an abstract, Gothic, Burton-esque world. The set is simple enough but is manipulated to transport audiences from a peaceful village to a treacherous forest. The set pieces used for the trees in particular are very inventive, functioning as a platform for performers to dance on, transport characters, or envelope themselves. Similarly, the lighting does wonders for highlighting, framing, or alienating characters. The costumes are elaborate and incredible to behold, especially in regards to Claudia's many costume changes. Of course, without the composition and choreography, there would be no ballet or story told. The two are paired very well together to create an eerily dark and altered telling of the classic tale in "Mirror Mirror."

This original ballet continues now through Sunday, May 18 at the Marcus Center. Tickets are on sale online or by calling 414-902-2103.