This past fall, New York-based Company XIV staged a terrific adults-only version of Cinderella, which they billed as a “Baroque Burlesque Ballet.” It was clever, inventive, bawdy, raucous, touching, provocative, and, perhaps most of all, a hell of a lot of fun. The troupe, led by artistic director Austin McCormick, alas cannot capture the fairy-tale magic again in its follow-up, a similarly staged retelling of the traditional German favorite Snow White. First published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, Snow White is about jealousy, vanity, friendship, and romantic love, but McCormick sacrifices plot and character development in his edition, instead focusing on repetitive set pieces that, though many are wonderfully presented, never cohere into a compelling narrative. Laura Careless, who starred in Company XIV’s mesmerizing, wholly original Lover. Muse. Mockingbird. Whore, is Die Königin, the Queen, who is determined to be the fairest of them all, and she is — until the arrival of the young and beautiful Schneewittchen, Snow White (Hilly Bodin). The Queen keeps coming up with ways to kill her competition, but Snow White keeps managing to survive this battle of wits and vanity.
The cast also includes Nicholas Katen, Malik Shabazz Kitchen, Mark Osmundsen, and Davon Rainey as the Königlicher Hofstaat (the Queen’s Men), Marisol Cabrera, Lea Helle, and Marcy Richardson as a trio of showgirls who put on brief puppet shows involving the Seven Little Men, and Courtney Giannone as Der Prinz (the Prince), whose spectacular performance on the Cyr wheel is barely an afterthought, character-wise. Zane Pihlstrom’s set and costumes don’t have the same panache they did in Cinderella, nor do the songs, a mix of Franz Schubert, Tove Lo, Troye Sivan, Britney Spears, Miguel, and George Frideric Handel sung by Rainey (who was sensational as the evil stepmother in Cinderella) and Richardson. (Giannone also performs Chopin, Debussy, and Prokofiev at the piano.) And the acrobatics, which also feature pole and aerial hoop dances, are extraneous in this context, while Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew’s projections and live video feeds eventually grow tiresome despite flashes of ingenuity. So what went wrong? This immensely talented troupe, which has also staged the fab Rococco Rouge and the seasonal hit Nutcracker Rouge, has just thrown too much at us in Snow White without considering the story itself, perhaps assuming the narrative doesn’t matter because we all know what happens anyway. But the best fairy tales stay with us from childhood because of the story, which gets left behind in this imaginative but disappointing production that unwisely chooses style over substance.