Traditional fairy tales have offered countless explorations into darker themes: sexuality, power, disempowerment, power and disempowerment through sexuality… one, especially if one is a feminist, could go on and on. And Company XIV’s presentation of Snow White, receiving its premiere at the Minetta Lane Theatre, seems to see these opportunities and seize upon them. The problem is that it isn’t clear which of these themes it has decided upon.
With Snow White, Company XIV and its director and choreographer Austin McCormick has presented a two-hour collage of song and dance, opera, circus acts, live-action filming and an endless amount of glitter. But there is no emotional core that ties the show together. Instead it is a thrilling visual spectacle, but it lacks dramatic impact.
Narrated in German by Lea Helle, whose sultry presence and vocals suit the mysterious atmosphere in the theatre (sets and costumes are by Zane Pihlstrom), Snow White also features operatic renditions of current pop songs performed by Marcy Richardson. The story itself is focused more on the evil Queen, Die Königin, (Laura Careless, giving a dedicated performance) and her obsession with being the “fairest in the land” than Snow White herself, Schneewittchen, (Hilly Bodin).
When the woodsman is unable to kill Snow White, per the Queen’s orders, the Princess finds herself in the home of seven tiny men (who only appear as puppets, which are difficult to see onstage). But when the Queen is alerted to Snow White’s survival, she continues to attempt to kill her, with a comb, a corset and finally the poisoned apple.
The use of video projections on the curtains to give a face and voice to the magic mirror is an impressive technological achievement, enhancing the darker undertones of the story, which, with a more pointed focus applied to the production, could offer a startling feminist perspective on the dangers of obsessing over physical beauty. After believing that Snow White is dead, the Queen throws herself into a performance of the song “Lucky Lips,” but Careless executes the number with a pained, maniac smile plastered on her face that clearly communicates she’s not as happy as she thinks she should be. And when Snow White is almost crushed to death by a corset, the company goes into a dance routine to the old-fashioned song “A Corset Can Do a Lot For a Lady,” accompanied by headless mannequins dressed in all black.
While watching Snow White, I found myself thinking of Naomi Wolf’s book “The Beauty Myth,” which explored the cost and consequence of the fixation with youth and physical beauty, especially when Snow White is found by the Prince (Courtney Giannone), who, finding her in a cellophane-wrapped coffin, immediately wakes her with a kiss. What follows is a stunning Cyr Wheel performance and, immediately, a wedding, where Snow White seems all too pleased to confront the Queen and take her crown. The conclusion of the show, which was certainly not reminiscent of the phrase “Happily Ever After” reminded me more of one of the most classic stories of female competition, “All About Eve.”
Snow White plays through March 12 at the Minetta Lane Theatre.