A narrative ballet, “Snow White” tells the often-recreated story of the fairest princess who is hunted by an evil queen hungry for beauty and then saved by the original Prince Charming.
The company faces the challenge of telling a familiar story to an audience with only movement.
Celine Marie, a dancer with the company who plays various ensemble characters in “Snow White,” said that unlike a plotless ballet, where the specificity of movement is key and the audience makes their own interpretation, narratives require the company to craft an understandable story for the viewers.
“Most of the time, everyone has his place,” she said.
But one of her characters — the deer whose heart the huntsmen take to convince the queen Snow White is dead — gives her a chance to stretch the narrative into abstract territory.
Robert Weiss, artistic director for the Carolina Ballet, said plotless or abstract ballet was not popular until the 1940s and ’50s. Historically, he said, ballets tell stories with vast stretches of choreography.
“In the end, you have to have dancing in every ballet,” he said.
“When you’re just telling a story and there’s not place for the emotion of the movement to take hold, you might as well write a play.”
Preljocaj’s interpretation of the “Snow White” narrative is provocative, said M’liss Dorrance, co-founder of the Ballet School of Chapel Hill.
“This particular narrative is grounded in humanity. It’s an earthy kind of rendition rather than what people would consider fairy tale or fantasy,” she said.
“The Disney sweetness is not what we’re looking at here.”
Gaelle Chappaz, who in Chapel Hill will play the evil queen, said Preljocaj wanted to return to the Grimm brothers’ story.
“The whole story of Snow White is a big part of actual society,” she said. “We are a generation that doesn’t know how to grow older.”
Preljocaj premiered the ballet with 26 dancers in 2008 in France, but a United States tour was postponed until 2012 because of the economic recession.
In 2009, the production won France’s Globes de Cristal award for Dance Spectacle.
The final product lets the audience explore different interpretations, said Carlos Ferreira da Silva, one of the seven dwarves.
“The story talks about love, beauty, jealousy — it’s subjective of all the characters,” he said.
“Each character has their own story to follow.”
Two hours before the curtain rose, the dancers illuminated this fullness of character.
Half of the dwarves stepped into harnesses and practiced falling, twisting and flipping down a facade while Snow White stretched out on the floor.
The prince rehearsed his pivotal dance scenes, and the huntsmen ducked rhythmically around the set’s trees.
For these dancers, movement is only half of the work. To weave the story without words, character is essential.
“I try to feel how (authentically) I can feel the real thing,” said Fabrizio Clemente, who will play the prince tonight. “It’s not just acting, I try to just feel the real thing.”
Clemente, who has been with Ballet Preljocaj since 2009, said the company is always searching for something fresh to give to the audience.
“My real career starts with this company,” he said. “It’s work where we never stop to catch the perfection.”
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