Theatre Review: Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Snow White"

By Elisa Murraysnowwhite_overview-cropped2

It's 4:29 p.m., and the three of us are ensconced in Row U at Seattle Center's McCaw Hall, still a little anxious from the search for parking and the herding of my friend's 4-year-old daughter to get to her first ballet performance, Pacific Northwest Ballet's Snow White, on time. She is perched on a red booster seat, a construction paper crown on her head, eyes fixed on the deep-red, sparkly velvet curtain that covers the stage.

The lights dim. The chatter fades. The red curtain lifts to unveil a magical other world: A painted backdrop of shadowy woodlands; graceful, green-garbed dancers -- wood nymphs? Winged ballerinas in peach tutus. Colorfully dressed, slightly askew dwarfs. A king.

And in a bit, a fair-skinned, ebony-haired dancer (Elle Macy) in blue and red who brings Snow White to life in graceful leaps and pirouettes, matching the score perfectly.

Snow White is a new one-hour ballet at Pacific Northwest Ballet danced entirely by PNB students, designed in length and format especially for younger audiences.  As such, it succeeds on many levels, and -- all in all -- is a wonderful early ballet experience for little ones.

The red curtain rising to unveil the world behind is one of the most magical moments of the performance, as is Snow White's entrance (she leaps onto stage with such professionalism and panache that I later double-checked to make sure that she was a student) and her later pas de deux with the prince (Andy Garcia) who wakes her from the poisoned sleep.

The evil queen (Madeline DeVries) is another highlight. Wearing an angular outfit of black and hot pink, the queen's presence and dancing breathed fire -- and a dash of sauciness -- into the production. She  also shines in the the later sequence where, dressed as a beggar woman, she offers Snow White a poisoned apple. (My friend and I agreed that the evil queen was our favorite part -- my friend's 4-year-old, not surprisingly, was all about Snow White.)

The sets were as fairytale-like as one would hope, with set changes as choreographed as the dancers: The colorful dwarfs' cottage is spun around from outside to inside and back again. The famous mirror -- large and glittering -- and its accompanying spirit soars and spins throughout the production. The production also included narration (by the king character), which is helpful for younger audiences (though adults may tire of it a bit).

Overall, Snow White was beautifully executed and showcased the choreography of  PNB School faculty member Bruce Wells as the extraordinary talents of PNB's students. My only quibble was that the introductory segment -- a dream-like sequence, while lovely, seemed a bit over-long. It takes awhile to arrive at the beginning of the fairy tale as we know it. By comparison, the rest -- queen has baby, dies, evil queen shows up, mirror tells truth, etc. -- seemed a bit rushed. Overall, though, the length (one hour) is perfect for the target audience.

The production also included many family-friendly touches. Children can make a crown prior to the performance at a crafts table, and/or attend an interactive story time. There are TVs just outside the hall, so if your small guest just can't sit any longer, you can still watch. In our case, our active 4-year-old companion was able to leap and pirouette all around the lobby in time to the music for the last few minutes, as we all watched Snow White get her guy.

If you go:

When: There are still tickets left for the final two performances of Snow White, on Sunday, March 25 at noon and 3:30 p.m.

Where: McCaw Hall, Seattle Center

Tickets: $22; available online at pnb.org, or at the PNB box office.

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