Milwaukee Ballet shines a sparkling light on "Mirror Mirror"
If a mirror has two sides, what does it take to know the one side that tells the truth? Or is it the other side harboring truth? Perhaps is it neither, with truth nowhere to be found?
Those questions are at the heart of "Mirror Mirror," the world premiere ballet created by Michael Pink that Milwaukee Ballet opened Thursday night and runs through the weekend at the Marcus Center.
The ballet is sort of a retelling of the old folk tale about Snow White. But Pink, the artistic director at the ballet, has moved this story far, far beyond the Snow White we all know so well.
This rendition is a detailed and passionate study of contrast. Good and evil. Black and white. Honesty and deceit. Lust and love.
There is the beautiful, dainty and clear-eyed Snow White, danced by Nicole Teague. She is the stuff of dreams for little girls. There is the beautiful, slinky and hooded Claudia, danced by Susan Gertell. She is the stuff of nightmares for little girls – and just about everyone else.
The drama of this ballet is between the two stunning women. They war over men and boys and the spirit of the night against the spirit of the day.
Pink, who has lived with this concept for 15 years, knows a thing or two about telling a story, and he leaves no arrows in his quiver as he hits bulls eye after bulls eye.
There's smoke, floating dancers, thunder, lightning, poison apples and little girls who have magic in their breath. There is a light that shines in utter joy, only to be vanquished by a dark that overwhelms the world.
The first thing you see when the curtain rises is a set, designed by Todd Edward Ivins, an associate artist at Milwaukee Rep and the designer for some of the most elaborate costumes I've ever seen.
The set is bordered by moveable walls that serve as both mountains and the inside of castles. And there are the two trees. They climb to the sky with branches strong enough to hold dancers and fine enough to capture swatches of light that turn them into instruments of musical delight.
The lighting by David Grill – who has lit everything from Super Bowls to the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show – is astounding. The light doesn't just capture the mood of the story; it's a story unto itself, wrapping its warmth and color around a stage already filled with beauty. I could never get enough of Grill's work.
Philip Feeney, who collaborated with Pink on the famous "Peter Pan" for Milwaukee Ballet, composed the score for "Mirror Mirror." Under the baton of Andrew Sills, the music provided a creative underpinning for both the story and the dancers. If I had a quarrel, it would be that while Feeney was adept at capturing the dark moments, the lighter ones could have used more sparkle. Music has a personality, and this score needed just a little less thunder and a bit more gentle rain.
However, after the sets and story and costumes and music, ballet is about the dancing.
Alexandre Ferreira, a Brazilian performer in his third year with the ballet, danced the part of Gustav, Snow White's lover and the target for Claudia. He's a powerful dancer who combines grace with a bit of danger, creating a memorable character.
The two lead women, Teague and Gartell, danced with the kind of whirlwind discipline that marks this company.
Gartell is a force to be reckoned with. Her ability to inhabit the wicked with threatening precision made the audience gasp at her every machination. She is a wonderful actor as well as dancer.
It's no secret that Teague may well be my favorite dancer in Milwaukee. She dances like the stage is a magic carpet that she is steering through the universe.
The role of Snow White will be danced by Luz San Miguel Friday night and Sunday, while Teague will be back in white on Saturday night.
Under normal circumstances, I look at a production, write what I think and let it go at that. That is the role of the critic. It's rare for me to suggest that something on a stage in Milwaukee is something an audience should not miss.
"Mirror Mirror" is one of those rare occasions.
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