Blanche Neige, Ballet by Angelin Preljoçaj
Gustav Mahler’s symphonies are each a universe where the quest for the meaning of life is key and where vitality and morbidity battle it out with musical vengeance. The Austro-Bohemian composer’s approach to composition was so ambitious and complex that few contemporary listeners managed to give him the appreciation he deserved. French choreographer Angelin Preljoçaj, however, gives Mahler a resounding tribute with the modern ballet Blanche Neige, which will grace the stage of the Rome Opera House this season.
Preljoçaj based Blanche Neige on a modern interpretation of the classic fairy tale Snow White by the Brothers Grimm. The ballet debuted on 25 September 2008 at the Biennale de la danse de Lyon, France. Through the expressive movement of no less than twenty-six dancers, the choreographer narrates the princess’s different life stages and the many challenges she has to face.
To bring the story to life, Preljoçaj relies on several movements from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, a very meaningful choice. The composer crafted his first symphony after studying the masterworks of Hector Berlioz, Ludwig van Beethoven and other leading names of the genre. Originally titled ‘Titan: A Symphonic Poem in the Form of a Symphony’, Mahler’s No. 1 is at once a celebration of life and hope and a condemnation of human depravity.
Much like the tale of Snow White, Symphony No. 1 begins with endless optimism and joy but quickly descends into deeper and darker places. The light strings and woodwinds, meant to float ethereally, slowly assume ever more dramatic overtones until the final fourth movement comes crashing with powerful percussion and sweeping brass. The storm-like pandemonium begins recalling the serene themes of the first movement, however, as if to reflect Mahler’s conviction that Good will persevere and triumph over Evil.
Symphony No. 1 debuted on 20 November 1889 in Budapest and failed to reach mass appeal, but over a century later, it inspired modern choreographer Angelin Preljoçaj to mirror the birth of innocence, its perilous journey through the world of man, and its eventual rebirth and triumph. With additional music by 79D and costumes by none other than Jean-Paul Gaultier, Teatro dell’Opera di Roma presents the mesmerising modern ballet Blanche Neige, set to a recording of Mahler’s first epic symphonic work.