Snow White reflects cultural depths

Dylan Evan's photo of Kanen Breen as the mirror

The mirror listens intently to the Queen

Brisbane Festival sets out to nurture and celebrate Brisbane’s cultural life. If international respect is a sign of our cultural depth, then the inclusion of two independent performances of Snow White, mark a milestone in that celebration.

The choice of Brisbane as the exclusive Australian destination for Ballet Preljocaj’s Snow White is one measure of such success. It is partly due to the oft-stated aim of Queensland Ballet director, Li Cun Xing, to make Brisbane a global centre of excellence for ballet. He has achieved this with a mix of classics and new works, the best international dancers inspiring and pushing brilliant local talent under his direction.

This French ballet features a score by Gustav Mahler, costumes by Jean Paul Galtier and choreography from the brilliant creative mind of Angelin Preljocaj. The fact that it completely sold out and left audiences screaming for more is a testament to its popular as well as its critical appeal.

International works at the highest pinnacle of official culture, though, are only one part of the equation. True culture comes from the ground up, percolated from the society which it reflects and which produces it. Brisbane’s rich heritage of grass-roots performance and production is nurtured in the dynamic Anywhere Festival, the incredibly rich music scene and the variety and unofficial performance spaces that spawn it.

It is one thing to observe and comment on a nascent upwelling of culture, it is another to see it bear fruit with internationally acclaimed works that connect those grass roots to the stars. The world premiere performance of a musical rendition of Snow White at La Boite epitomizes that upwelling.

Snow White at la Boite

Snow White at la Boite until September 24th

Brilliant, challenging, visceral, powerful, haunting, real, soaringly imaginative … I would run out of space before epithets. The audiences attending La Boite to see the spectacle this month need no critics to tell them what they have seen, though. The deepest parts of our humanity are reflected back to us in the raw. We cannot help to feel directly affected as power, sex, beauty and age are exposed at their most vigorous in acts of seduction, betrayal, murder and rape.

This show pulls no punches. Rather than sexual references we are confronted with simulated sex. The complex and brutal act of hiring an assassin of begging that assassin for your life and of murdering your own child when that hired assassin are dealt with directly rather than allegorically. This is not a show that relies on innuendo, sub-text and implication to deliver its message, the brutality of the tale is real, visceral and in your face.

That is not to say that it lacks depth. The full frontal confrontation of these deep dark themes simply holds them up more clearly for inspection. The reflective nature of the mirror and its ability to lead us to express naked ambition and desire is a treatise in its own right that is a new element of this oft-told tale.

The stunning elevation of the mirror to a central character reminding us all of the narcissistic society in which we live and the degree to which we worship success through the wiles of the mirror is a brilliant twist, brilliantly delivered.

That all this is presented to us by four singing actors and four musicians positioned in one corner of the stage is even more remarkable. The sets and the costumes are stunning, the work itself is destined to become a classic reference point in the constant retelling of this classic tale.

Anyone who thinks that a musical version of Snow White should involve dwarves noisily celebrating wage slavery will be severely disappointed, this is about what happens when you murder your children because you resent them – or, worse, try to do so and fail.

La Boite is a lot cheaper than QPAC, too, though $49 for a concession ticket is still beyond the reach of many. If you can possibly afford that between now and September 24th, spend it. It is an investment in your cultural heritage.

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