Last night Ballet Nebraska opened its fourth season at the Rose Theater with “Snow White,” a production that featured many familiar elements of the Grimm Brothers' beloved fairy tale: the requisite evil queen, a princess in distress, a charming prince and, of course, seven endearing dwarfs. It also included a great deal of creative license. Taken together, the two resulted in hits, misses and several missed opportunities.
Winthrop Corey, the artistic director of Mobile Ballet Company of Mobile, Ala., served as guest choreographer, and his strongest choreography appeared at the beginning and end of the production during Snow White's 16th birthday party and her wedding, both of which involved lithe, sustained dancing by 12 maidens. Portrayed by company dancers and apprentices, the maidens communicated their joy at the princess's coming of age and her marriage, two pivotal events that bookended the story. Although the first was Corey's invention, it was easy to follow without reading the program, and it established nicely Snow White's stature as the fairest in the land. The second was also intuitively obvious and was clearly a hit with the audience, as evidenced by the approximately 4- or 5-year-old girl in the row ahead of me. The graceful dancing inspired her to attempt the same in the aisle, only to be gently coaxed back into her seat by her mother.
Less easy to follow — and a bit bewildering without the aid of the program — was the arrival of fireflies, nymphs and sprites in the forest following Snow White's flight from the queen. While the choreography had a lovely, dreamy quality, it seemed better suited to a retelling of “A Midsummer Night's Dream.” Recasting the fireflies as bluebirds (easily recognizable from the animated Walt Disney classic) and the nymphs and sprites as deer (the epitome of woodland grace, after all) would have provided plenty of elasticity for interpretation while still adhering to the fairy tale's well-known framework. Additionally, the garden children in the beginning of the first act could have been put to more adorable — and potentially better — use here as forest denizens such as rabbits, foxes, hedgehogs, owls, etc.
Although Erika Overturff was commanding as the Queen of the Nymphs, I couldn't help but wish she instead had portrayed the youth-obsessed queen. She would have been deliciously evil dancing around a full-standing mirror or maliciously coaxing Snow White to bite into that near-fatal red apple. Instead, the part was a non-dancing one, and time seemed to drag as the queen moved from swooping around the stage to the balcony where she consulted a somewhat shaky magic mirror.
Similarly not made to full use was Ryan Christopher in the role of the Huntsman. He had a commanding stage presence without doing much, and a dramatic pas de deux with Snow White could have involved his attempt to kill the princess, only to give in to his conscience and let her go.
Natasha Grimm-Gregory was a winningly winsome princess and demonstrated an ethereal, beguiling grace in her solos and pas de deux with Prince Charming, dashingly danced by Sasha York. She was relegated at times, though, to too much pantomiming, such as the scene in which she cleaned the dwarfs' cottage. How she could have shone simply dancing with a feather duster or a broom!
The choreography for the dwarfs also relied too much on mimicry; indeed, there was next to no choreography for them — although the seven children in the roles were undeniably cute.
While not the strongest of Ballet Nebraska's productions to date, the problem lay more with the narrative and the missed opportunities for casting and choreography than with the dancers. With some tweaking, “Snow White” could easily be a production it could revisit, one in which it could retell the fairy tale in a way that would showcase what a strong company it has been developing into over the past three years.
A second performance of “Snow White” takes place at the Rose Theater today at 2 p.m. Tickets are available at the box office.