Mirror, Mirror... A Postmodern Snow White in Gowanus 


Snow White
Created, choreographed and directed by Austin McCormick
Adapted by Jeff Takacs

"Like nicotine and drink, children," the narrator told the overwhelmingly adult audience on a recent Saturday night, "beauty to the vain only intensifies their thirst for more." Paradoxically, the Gowanus-based dance-theater troupe Company XIV's take on the classic Brothers Grimm fairy tale Snow White (through January 15), directed and choreographed by founder Austin McCormick and adapted by Jeff Takacs—who plays the narrator in circus ringmaster-like top-hat and red coat tails—is a thing of decadent beauty. Its narrative warns against vanity, envy and pride, but there's nothing modest, moderate, or demure about its sets, costumes, songs and dances. McCormick cautions through baroque excess.

The early exposition moves swiftly to maximize movement and music, with Takacs recounting the birth of Snow White (Gracie White), her mother's death and her father's new, narcissistic queen (Laura Careless), who sends the teenage princess to die in the forest. Staged in a vast rectangular area flanked on either side by seats, Zane Pihlstrom's set design has all the actors emerging from a curtained-off space at one end, stepping out towards a silvery tree trunk and several swinging apparatuses at the other, and exiting back behind the curtain. This gives the action a catwalk-like circularity befitting Olivera Gajic's stunning costumes. It also serves the story, here trimmed of its seven dwarves, but with its three-pronged structure intact: disguised as a French couturière the queen gives Snow White a too-tight corset; as a Spanish hairdresser she provides a poisoned comb; and finally, disguised as a Slavic apple farmer's wife, she tempts her innocent step-daughter with a Red Delicious. Each attempt on Snow White's life involves regionally appropriate song and dance, including a stunning tango sequence and a clever corset-tightening tug-of-war. In all these scenes a cart of some sort wheels the disguised queen and her entourage out to the forest, and each of these rolling contraptions is a masterpiece of prop design unto itself.

There are too many beautiful details and dance sequences to enumerate, but the queen's early tag-teaming with her high-heeled courtesans and Snow White's duet with the prince (Joseph McEachern) who wakes her from her frozen perch—a hoop suspended from the silver tree—are among the best. Throughout, the company's lavish postmodern aesthetic, which includes a giant digital projection serving as the queen's magical mirror, conjures images of incredible beauty and dizzying vivacity. Despite the narrator's warning, we must be vain, because so much beauty only makes the audience thirst for more.

(Photo: Steven Schreiber)

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