Episode 7 - Snow White

Wesley: Hi I’m Wesley.

Robyne: And I’m Robyne.

Wesley: And this is, Obstructed View.

Robyne: And today we will be discussing Company XIV’s Snow White at the Minetta Lane Theatre.

Wesley: Company XIV’s Snow White follows the traditional German tale, rather than the Disney version of the Snow White story. If you don’t know the original tale, it is in which a vain queen consults her mirror “Who is the fairest in the land?” The mirror responds, “Snow White.” Who she then orders to have killed. Snow White flees to the woods where the queen gives chase after her, intending to kill her. Snow white finally dies by eating a poisoned apple but is revived by a handsome prince. At the prince’s wedding ceremony with Snow White, which the queen attends, the queen is punished to death by being forced to wear red-hot iron metal shoes.

Robyne: Our design team for Snow White was Zane Pihlstrom for set and costumes, Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew for lighting and projection design, and makeup design by Sarah Cimino. The only addition that has been made to the in house set Company XIV has been using this season was the addition of a small pop up puppet theatre.

Wesley: The way that they interacted with the set, it didn’t have the sense of going up and down, up and down, all over the place that Cinderella did, where it really utilized every corner at all times. But there was such a full bodied vision for all these different stage elements. They really saw a much larger picture than I think they did in the two previous pieces, where it was really all about this three ring circus where you look at this one then you look at this place and this place, this was a much more open dance space. And you really got a good sense of that during the pre-show, in which the actors were just walking around on the stage going about their business. I loved the pre-show for this one because everyone seemed so calm, and ready to tell the story, and you were able to access all aspects of the space without treating it like an “I Spy” game.

Robyne: There was so much air. There was so much space. You could breathe in this production, and in this design, and in the treatment of the space, that I found to be the real hinderance in Nutcracker Rouge, it was just so fast paced and frantic, and this was just so much more relaxed in its pre-show, and its staging, and all of that franticness was gone.

Wesley: Yeah, this was a much more constructed, and much more patiently delivered piece.

Robyne: And that was really paralleled in the lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew. It was a lot more along the lines of Cinderella, but where Cinderella was that warm amber color of champagne feeling, this was much more of a bright neon, techno-colored mixed drink. Like a cosmopolitan or an Appletini.

Wesley: Yeah … uh-

Robyne: Lighting wise-

Wesley: okay

Robyne: ...you know it’s true

Wesley: So, Cinderella had this hollywood golden age feel to it. Nutcracker Rouge was a ... jewel toned Pollock painting. But this, this had that beautiful haze to it. Almost as though you were looking at an overcast day inside this jewel toned box. It was so beautiful how all these different colors mixed together, and how they really took advantage of what I think was the season. I think that this was very much a play that belonged in the heart of winter, in February. I think they really understood the mood of this audience walking into this play. I didn’t want me to be confused and think I was in summer, but they made a beautiful atmosphere with this lighting, and there were even moments where the lighting was hitting the chandelier that was so new, it was such a new idea with lighting and its interaction with set.

Robyne: And it felt present. You mentioned that Cinderella felt like the Hollywood golden age, but something about this lighting design really helped this production feel young, and capture Snow White’s youthfulness.

Wesley: And, we’ll get into this further later in the podcast, but while the other two productions felt like Company XIV first and their story second. I really saw this as a continuation of the Snow White mythos. I saw this as a continuation of the world of Snow White. I think they had a lot of respect for the source material.

Robyne: It felt so true to form, and it was completely narrative in that sense. Something I really loved in the lighting design was that in the creation of Snow White’s glass casket which was this really beautiful scene, very slowly placed, of them unraveling cling wrap, essentially, a giant roll of cling wrap over the previously used false proscenium framework, in which she is laid on a box

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and it is slowly, by four people, just rolled and rolled and rolled. The lighting inside of that scene work painted it this very light, almost neon, blue that was gorgeous, it worked so very well. And there is something about that tint of blue that is glasswork and that felt like that Disney style and that-

Wesley: And furthermore in that moment there was something that I saw, that I didn’t witness in the other two pieces, which was a part of melancholy. This moment of meditative melancholy with its combination of this totally out of the blue Dance Theatre Pina Bausch moment with them taking the cling wrap around and around the proscenium, which I loved, and also just committing to the mood first.

Robyne: That is one of the two moments of stillness in this production, that really just stuck out, and I don’t recall seeing in Cinderella, because even in moments of calm and quiet, for instance the Fairy Godmother’s entrance, there is still a very slow, decadent movement to that. Whereas, in this Snow White is dead and not moving, frozen, and Snow White lost in the snow storm was a beautiful, calm, very still moment.

Wesley: It was expansive and cinematic in a way that I had not seen from this company before. It was a sense of wonder, and it made evident this sense of a German expressionist film, I had not seen in their previous work.

Robyne: Hands down, maybe my favorite moment  in theatre that I’ve seen this past year. That snowstorm scene. Completely transportive. And I’ve nothing else to say. It was fantastic.

Wesley: And furthermore in the other two pieces by them, the quiet moments felt like spaces between the things you’re supposed to see. They felt like the “...” between scenes, rather than feeling like stand alone scenes that are supposed to be taken in on their own account. And in this, those quiet moment felt like moments that are supposed to weigh as much as the stunt, as the singing, as anything else.

Robyne: And it really helped us follow Snow White’s travels. It brought us into her mind and we were allowed to breathe with her, and be afraid with her, as opposed to being shown all these ridiculous things as we were in the Nutcracker... or, almost, forced to feel in Cinderella. Along those lines restraint, something I really appreciated about this production, in comparison to the other two, was a much healthier display of the leather BDSM, which they are so fond of- which was in this instance so more properly used in the simple use of ball gags with the queen’s mirror bearers. The opening scene has the queen enter and really gorgeously displays her vanity and her cold cruelness, as opposed to the wicked stepmother in Cinderella’s very hot cruelness. With sharp whips. And while the wicked queen came out with a whip at some point it always felt like a very blue flame.

Wesley: The costuming in this piece, while I agree their use of the BDSM was much better in this, I would like to start to see some more variation in the costuming that they use.

Robyne: I completely agree. I love the use of near nudity. I loved the Prince’s outfit in this, it was newer than I’d seen in the other productions. But it’s still mostly corsets and nude forms, and that is absolutely fine if that is your basis. But a little more flavoring would be really appreciated.

Wesley: And I remember saying, I’d like to see something on that stage that doesn’t look like it would hurt to the touch. A lot of it just seemed uncomfortable at this point in time with this level of character, and this level of world building, I’d like to see some sense of comfort in this world that they’re making.

Robyne: I would love some version of Cinderella where we see her in something much simpler, like a cotton blouse. And really have an everyman be taken into this exquisite world.

Wesley: A thing they added in Snow White, which we hadn’t seen in Company XIV before, was the use of projections. Projections are brought in every time the queen asks the mirror “Who is the fairest of us all?”

Robyne: And I really loved that concept. I loved that the mirror was really reflecting her face, and so we saw in various forms, one time beautifully projected onto her back, the mirror which would be her face responding to her question.

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It happened a little too often and they went a little too long, but it was great. It worked very well and they were using it to supplement some missing part of the production, like set, and the use of projection I loved.

Wesley: I agree, I think the use of projection was phenomenal, especially, as you said, when it was on her back. A lot of variation and innovation with how it’s projected. I’ll give them that this is how it works in the original piece, that these were the questions asked, and these were the responses from that source material. However, I just think it took too long to get into, and too long to get out of each of those moments in terms of streamlining the question and answer periods between her and the mirror.

Robyne: Agreed.

Wesley: And lastly we have sound design by the director Austin McCormick.

Robyne: There’s a lot I liked about the sound design in this production. There’s a lot I loved about it. I’m a little tired of operatic singing at this point, I felt a little too much of it in this production. But the mashing up of “Toxic” with a tango flamenco dance number was, was visionary. That song, the choreography, in line with it, that music just worked perfectly for me.

Wesley: I, in terms of choice of music and what’s being used, I really liked their commitment to the baroque style and classical music in this. I felt that the other two got caught in a PostModern Jukebox that was starting to bore me. But when I was ready to roll my eyes at them reconstructing Toxic, it became one of my, if not my favorite moment of the show.

Robyne: Absolutely.

Wesley: It was so much fun, it was not trying to be anything that it wasn’t. The costumes worked, the moment worked, and it was committed to a moment of story.

Robyne: That was a climax.

Wesley: Yeah, it absolutely was. I liked the use of baroque, I liked the use of classical music throughout.

Robyne: Solid sound design.

Wesley: Yeah, yeah, solid choices made in music and sound.

Robyne: Let’s move on to cast.

Wesley: So in our cast we have as Die Königin or The Queen, Laura Careless. As Schneewittchen or Snow White Hilly Bodin. As the Showgirls Marcy Richardson, Lea Helle, and Marisol Cabrera. As the Könglicher Hofstaat or The Queen’s Men Davon Rainey, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, and Nicholas Katen and as Der Prinz or the Prince Courtney Giannone.

Robyne: Disclaimer: As previously mentioned in Cinderella, I know Hilly Bodin well and it was fantastic to see her in such a leading role so early in her career.

Wesley: So something that they do in this cast that I really appreciate is that they reduced it. As much as I enjoyed seeing everyone on stage all the time in the other two pieces, more in Nutcracker Rouge than in Cinderella in this case, I liked the sense of everyone having an equal hand in telling this very simple story.

Robyne: It was intimate where the others were not and the size of the cast and the amount of stage they took up helped the production breathe.

Wesley: The production helped everybody have a very calm personality from having a very simple concept for themselves when they walked on stage. They’re allowed to be their own selves. The showgirls were allowed to be so calm and so goofy and fun. And the Queen’s men were so at ease. They were all so calm on stage being themselves in the moment.

Robyne: And as fun as the stepsister’s one-upmanship game was in Cinderella the space and air really allowed for the characters to come through without the characters needing to fight to be heard or seen. And just having the juxtaposition of Laura Careless’s often terrifying queen and Hilly Bodin’s pure and naive Snow White, just coming into her own and discovering her power and discovering her sexuality was really beautiful. And having those two very distinct personas on stage, was fascinating to watch.

Wesley: Yeah, this play really, I keep saying play because more than anything else this felt like a piece of drama, I was astonished with Laura Careless as The Queen. Having seen her simper through Nutcracker Rouge, to see her have essentially a monologue in dance form in the beginning was incredible.

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Robyne: And her transition out of the circus scene, which replaced the farmer’s life witch scene, in which she hands the apple off, and seeing her victory in killing Snow White and reckoning with that for just long enough, some people might say too long, but it- she was so grounded and lost in that to moment, to have her immediately shift into this terrifying nineteen fifties esque cartoonish dance number.

Wesley: It was- it was actually- it was a real star turn for her to take a role like that and to find all the fun you can get out of it. And she is, she was able to fascinate me with dance on the same level that other performers were able to fascinate me with singing opera upside down on a stripper pole.

Robyne: And her introduction was just phenomenal. The way that her character was made completely evident by that first moment was fantastic.

Wesley: Right and this really felt like a collaboration between her and Austin McCormick, in a real development of that monologue through dance. Her introduction with her queen’s men with their light up ball gags, I thought was going to be a bit much, because it was in all their advertising materials, and I thought it was going to be a bit garish and like we really jumped the shark. But she really grounded it in the world of this is a woman in charge. And then in “Mirror mirror on the wall,” her first discovery that she is not the fairest, it was done with such intensity, and such refinement, it perfectly catapulted us into the plot that followed and into the mind of a woman that would try to kill a young girl multiple times to make sure she’s the fairest.

Robyne: Yeah, there was near Shakespearean loss of power by a monarch, that was handled so beautifully.

Wesley: And it feels more than just bland vanity. You do get a sense that this is something this woman derives all of life’s power from. This isn’t just “Oh there’s a mole over here,” this is her work.

Robyne: And to have that contrasted by Hilly Bodin’s Snow White, was beautiful, then having the trifecta of the prince arriving and being this super suave creature with that Cyr Wheel, and that Cyr wheel work, I’ve seen a Cyr wheel used so often in the downtown, off off, avant-garde scene to poor effect, but this is incredible. This made me feel like the 1950’s movies where the lead jock comes in and he’s just so cool and everyone wants to be his friend and Courtney just had that, had whatever that thing is, that charisma, that machismo that just attracted every audience member’s focus.

Wesley: And I think one of the good comparisons between Laura Careless and Hilly Bodin in this performance is that Hilly’s performance, it came more naturally, in terms of how it was presented. The choreography of the queen, the way she treats people, all comes with an air of practice, and Hilly’s performance, it felt like it came to her with ease. Like she didn’t even have to try to be the “fairest in the land,” it’s just something that she was born with. And that’s not to say she doesn’t do a great job of putting in performance, putting in ballet, but a contrast there between The Queen, who has fought and has refined and refined and refined and Hilly, who’s able to just breathe into her own beauty, made for a great dynamic.

Robyne: There was just so much smoothness, and litheness, and grace in Hilly, where The Queen was such sharp edges, it was incredible to have those two things together.

Wesley: Right, and also looking at costuming, so at the end of the piece, when you have The Prince and Snow White, their costuming is sort of like a tapestry. Still burlesque, still showing some skin, but it’s a tapestry work. And it gives a sense to a kind of a warmth to them, and comfort, as compared to the almost drag elements of The Queen.

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Robyne: Laura Careless’ final dress is this really gorgeous sequined evening gown that reminds me of BeBe Neuwirth or Eartha Kitt, in this kind of smokey ‘all fingernails pulling you towards her and you know you’re being manipulated but you want it anyway’. Yes?

Wesley: Right, and her three torments that she pulls on Snow White, the first being the corset that’s pulled too tightly, the second being the poisoned comb, and the third the poisoned apple, which now is this bauble that’s put in the circus brought from person to person to person, they were done with inventiveness as well.

Robyne: The beat structure of this production was absolutely wonderful, it fixed the issues I had with Nutcracker... in the narrative structure. The moments were very clean and clearly defined, from the queen’s entrance, to Snow White’s entrance, to The Queen ordering the woodsman to get the heart of Snow White, to that gorgeous orb of ice with the beating heart at the center the queen attacked with a knife and shot ice everywhere, which was probably unsafe for the first row, into the puppet show, without having to probably offensively solve for having seven little men, Austin McCormick has staged this puppet show for the meeting of The Dwarves every time, into the torments, the first being the corset, the second being the comb and the third being the apple which was given to her through this circus, which worked far better than the circus moments in either of the first two productions. And there was- I keep on saying there was so much space and air to breathe, during that circus performance everyone had a moment to shine without everyone being given a moment to shine, for the audience to recognize their skill and their talent. They were simply all happening, it was paced so well that the audience was given that moment.

Wesley: And there was always a focus, it was never just there for stunt work. It was there to center around the apple that Snow White was doomed to bite into.

Robyne: And we went immediately from there to the funeral scene with the seran wrap glass coffin into the-

Wesley: The Cyr wheel

Robyne: -into the cyr wheel, into The Queen’s punishment by death by dancing in the smoking hot coal red shoes as she danced to death.

Wesley: The ending was-

Robyne: was a little weak.

Wesley: While her dancing was excellent, just in the way of framing the moral it’s trying to state something got a little bit muddled in having Snow White curious as to who is the fairest in the land. Or, for some reason, that being offered again. Rather than showing two clear viewpoints on vanity: Snow White who’s happy with her natural beauty and The Queen, who’s obsessed with her constructed beauty, and that being her doom while Snow White is able to be in love. It was all muddled, and it didn’t end with the sense of finality that could really have helped this be a piece of some poignancy.

Robyne: And I’m all for corruption feed into the next generation as a moral for these kinds of stories, but there was something about not ending with the light not solely focused on the queen as she danced her death with the projection of the mirror- once Snow White was introduced to that ending instead of having her live “Happy Ever After,” it was just muddled, it got a little confusing.

Wesley: Because he did do similar things in Cinderella, and Nutcracker Rouge, where they wake up from the dream, or whatever happens, and they kind of are supposed to leave mentally this bad tang in your mouth of not everything is well. There isn’t a “Happy Every After.”

Robyne: It’s this tint of realism he tries to bring on to that, it, it just never lands well.

Wesley: No, it worked decently in Cinderella, however here it just felt muddled as to what is this statement supposed to be. That didn’t deride in any way shape or form the power of the performance, off of its hinges. The performance still resonated very very well. But just, for a last moment, I would have preferred a bit more clarity with a piece that was just so incredibly well structured.

Robyne: Agreed, so Wesley I guess the last question is, is it worth the 65 dollar full price ticket?

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Wesley: It’s weird ‘cause, while this is my favorite of their pieces, it isn’t as easy to recommend at that ticket cost as Cinderella, or Nutcracker Rouge, because those featured stunts that were so much easier to define. However, yes I think it’s absolutely worth the cost of admission to see this. Robyne-?    

Robyne: Yes! It is. Spend the money. Go see the show. It’s fantastic! As always, you can find us and join in on the conversation at obstructed-view.com, or on facebook, or twitter. I’m Robyne.

Wesley: and I’m Wesley.

Robyne: and remember -

Wesley: Everything’s perfect at the ballet.