Blanche Neige, Ballet by Angelin Preljoçaj
When Gustav Mahler premiered his Symphony No. 1 on 20 November 1889 in Budapest, the public largely failed to understand his optimistic message and his carefully crafted musical narrative. Nearly 120 years later, choreographer Angelin Preljoçaj took Mahler’s first grand work and set it to an inspired modern ballet. The result, Blanche Neige, is expectedly enthralling and will grace the stage of Rome Opera House this season.
Preljoçaj unveiled Blache Neige at the Biennale de la danse de Lyon, France, on 25 September 2008. With the strength of twenty-six dancers, it presents a modern retelling of the beloved fairy tale Snow White, originally published by the Brothers Grimm. The dance performance takes us through the different stages of the heroine’s life, from the hopeful innocent childhood through the untimely death of her mother, her evil stepmother’s plot to kill her, her lucky escape and her eventual triumph.
The fairy tale’s narrative finds its mirror image in the complex, four-movement structure, upon which Mahler built his Symphony No. 1. The otherworldly first movement begins with gentle strings and woodwinds that grow slowly and move lightly, never rushing. This is innocence and optimism, the voice of Nature, as the composer characterised it.
A slow crescendo adds volume and power to the music, and the following movements gradually descend from the opening’s ethereal lightness into the heaviness of the physical world where innocence comes to die. By the time the fourth and final movement comes around, the orchestra is in full swing, aggressive string passages blaze, brasses billow, and percussion is crashing down.
Among the pandemonium, Mahler slowly revives the gentle, life-affirming themes from the first movement and brings Symphony No. 1 to a glorious, triumphant finale in D-Major that banishes the storms and furies, leaving the listener convinced of Good’s ultimate victory over Evil.
Preljoçaj captures the supreme narrative quality in Mahler’s symphony and transfers that to the modern ballet action of Blanche Neige in an inspired, mesmerising production. Years after its successful debut, the performance is coming to Rome, courtesy of the Corps de Ballet of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma. Based on a recording of Symphony No. 1 and additional music by 79D, the ballet also features the original costumes of Jean-Paul Gaultier. With so much classical and contemporary creative power, Blanche Neige is avant-garde art of the highest order.