This premiere production offers an exciting look into the world of contemporary ballet choreography and its ability to address popular culture. The numerous vantage points of hunger persisting throughout the performance point out the dilution (or perhaps sweetening) of Disney’s interpretations. Here, the violent questioning of agency over one’s body, coupled with the gender expectations of dance, create a key distinction. Further, the performance creates an impact that cannot be found in the classical stories we have grown accustomed to in ballet—sparking an urgency to create contemporary work the public is craving to experience.
What I think a lot of people don’t know is that the Grimms’ tales began as women’s oral tales, so they’re a way for women to represent their fears and anxieties and desires at a time where they were quieted by the church or the state. So they are a little bit transgressive,” says Frank of her source material. “Stephen’s company feels like a contemporary set of dancers: the bodies, ethnicities, genders–it’s very nontraditional, in the same way these tales aren’t traditional.” Ballet Austin artistic director and choreographer Stephen Mills was inspired by an exhibition of New York-based artist Natalie Frank’s work and accompanying book, aptly titled “Grimm Tales.” Frank’s colorful drawings underscore the provocative nature and feminist voice of the Grimms’ stories, an element that has also been adapted into the world of ballet. Frank’s work will be incorporated into the production through onstage projections and animations, and she has teamed with Tony-nominated costume designer Constance Hoffman. While Hoffman is charged with the ballet’s costumes, the pair are collaborating on the textile design, and the entire process has taken a collaborative shape, with each element—including set design by George Tsypin and music by Graham Reynolds—impacting the various parts.
“Grimm Tales,” a ballet opening Friday in Austin, Texas, has queens and dwarves and a frog-kissing princess—but doesn’t end happily ever after. The Ballet Austin production is based on tales from the Brothers Grimm and inspired by the gritty drawings of Natalie Frank, an artist who has spent the past eight years exploring the gruesome scenarios behind “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and other folk stories. Stephen Mills, Ballet Austin’s artistic director, choreographed the ballet and commissioned a score from composer Graham Reynolds. Ms. Frank shaped the look of the production and created 35 drawings for the sets. Some drawings are animated and will be projected on to scrims onstage; others will be concurrently exhibited in Austin’s Lora Reynolds Gallery until June 8. Ms. Frank worked with Tony-nominated designer Constance Hoffman on costumes for the 22 dancers in the ballet.