DanceEast premieres modern Snow White for the MeToo age
- Credit: Archant
Contemporary ballet director Holly Noble is premiering a new take on the Snow White legend at DanceEast this weekend. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to her about the contemporary concerns reflected in the timeless story
Folk tales and traditional fairytales have survived because they tackle themes which remain relevant to each generation. Hollywood has long been drawn to these timeless tales but in order to make them appealing to a wide-ranging, increasingly younger, audience, they have tended to either remove or gloss over some of the darker elements which frequently form the heart of the story.
Ballet company director Holly Noble is presenting a new version of the Snow White legend, called Snow, which tackles the whole concept of self-image in the social media age.
Holly says that she enjoys creating contemporary ballets which bring the dance form into the modern age. She says that the story of Snow White provided the perfect metaphor for our view of self-worth for Instagram generation. The magic mirror is now replaced by the mobile phone screen reflecting false images of the unobtainable perfect life and a constantly changing new look.
Holly will be premiering her new production at DanceEast this weekend before it heads off on a UK tour.
What attracted you to do a ballet about Snow White and was it hard to rescue the original story from the ‘cleaned up’ Disney version?
HN: “There has been a lot of discussion within the ballet world over the last couple of years around how we portray women. They are generally seen as victims or people who need rescuing or they die a horrible death and I thought: ‘wouldn’t it be interesting if I could flip that narrative but with a well-known story.’
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“My other inetrest is making work within the classical genre that is accessible to everyone. Therefore in this we have a narrator who speaks and signs, so it is fully integrated for the hearing and deaf community. I have always been drawn to Grimm’s fairytales and I wanted to do something where the two women were central to the story – that’s Snow and the Step Mother – and as we delved deeper into the story the links with social media started to appear. People use phones as magic mirrors looking at people on social media living perfect lives and always looking very beautiful and we know that the reality is very different.”
So have you had to change the story alot to bring it up to date?
HN: “It’s the original story but as seen through a modern lens. Snow White doesn’t have a wicked step-mother instead her nemesis is a very vain, self-absorbed tatooed lady who is seeking constant justificiation for how she looks. We don’t have a prince in it, we stick to the original version where the poisoned apple falls from her mouth, so there is not a love story as such, it is much more about looking at the role of women and how they interact with one another.
Was it a challenge to bring out some of the darker aspects of the story following years of pantomime and Hollywood cartoons had banished the moral lessons?
NH: “I think modern culture has sanitised many of the original stories and it’s hard to combat this. I have three year old twins and they are all ready fully in the grip of Disney and these are the stories that they know. I think, as a result, that the original stories do come as a shock because they can be very shocking and I think in the #MeToo era, I think there are conversations that we need to be having earlier in life and the story is a good vehicle to explore those ideas.
So where have you set this story?
HN: “Our story takes place in a Victorian travelling circus and it’s told using modern and classical music, narration, circus skills and film. I am very interested in accesibility and we very rarely see disabled dancers in classical ballet and I really want to challenge that. I am also really interested in bringing down the fourth wall and really engaging with an audience, so we have the narrator in this and our dancers will introduce themselves to the audience. I want to make ballet a little less scary. One of the reasons that I was drawn to the Victorian circus themes was that they were one of the ways that disabled people could earn a living. The Victorian freak show was incredibly popular. Disabled were not freaks but it was a good way of earning their living and the more research I did the more I realised that this was a good way to discuss ideas of what is beauty, how we perceive people and talk about what is important in life and what makes us good people.”
Snow, by Holly Noble Dance Company, is being premiered at The Jerwood DanceHouse on Ipswich Waterfront on Saturday November 24.