Who’s the fairest of them all? | Naupaca Dance Factory

We speak to members of the Gozo-based Naupaca Dance Factory about their upcoming production, The Death of Snow White: A Tragedy in Seven Days, a contemporary dance adaptation of the classic Grimm’s fairy tale, playing at the Aurora Theatre in Gozo on December 1 and the Malta Mediterranean Conference Centre in Valletta on December 7 and 9.

Naupaca Dance Factory will be giving a contemporary spin to the Snow White story in a new ballet.
Naupaca Dance Factory will be giving a contemporary spin to the Snow White story in a new ballet.

Creative people in Malta and Gozo are often forced to skimp on quality due to time constraints. How would you say you've managed to sustain a high level of quality in your productions?

Joeline Tabone (director, choreographer): I think that it's all about the amount of love and pride we put into our work. The production is the result of all the effort that goes on behind it. We care more about the quality of the product than income. We somehow feel that we are meant to be here, doing this kind of work.

Deborah Agius (dancer, production manager): I believe that the process of money-making is itself creative.

Deborah Agius as The Queen

Deborah Agius as The Queen

What kind of preparation did you undertake for this particular production?

DA: We put our heads together; we come up with ideas, sometimes abort them, and come up with others.  For me, Snow White has so far been a very peculiar and strange experience, as I'm simultaneously preparing myself to dance in a main role and managing the whole production.  It has been quite a challenge.

Luke Azzopardi (production and costume designer): This time we have filtered our ideas. The act of eliminating irrelevancies is art in itself.

The background of the aesthetic is more established and researched than that of our previous production, Alice's Adventures Under Ground. This time we have created something which is completely different from the presumed roots of the original story.

I injected the costumes with iconography. I would go as far as to say that even the process of making the costumes was itself iconographic. The style is not necessarily symbolic, but I feel that it is quite representative.

I have worked with prints depicting anything from Adam and Eve to Mary Magdalene, decided to have serpents engraved in the Queen's shoes and exploited the whole colour palette to its greatest potentialities. It really has been a unique experience.

Stepan Pechar as The Prince

Stepan Pechar as The Prince

Snow White seems to have somehow surfaced into the popular consciousness over the past year, with two Hollywood films riffing off the tale appearing in cinemas. Which of these elements have you taken up for the production itself, and why do you think they are specifically relevant to dance?

LA: In terms of imagery, the Snow White story presents its readers with a set of visuals that are themselves universal - the apple being one of them. The idea of temptation led us to introduce the character of the devil in the story. We were also particularly intrigued by the notions of creation and death and rebirth.

Moreover, in the Grimms's story the queen dances to her death, and that greatly appealed to us, as a dance company.

I divided the aesthetic of the production in two so as to reflect the idea of having two female protagonists. The idea of having two protagonists is oxymoronic in itself, hence the sense of a clash was explored - a clash that demanded two different aesthetic approaches.

The design was born out of these two needs, of the sense of beauty that can be found in two opposites, beauty as paradoxical. Snow White grows more beautiful with each passing day. There is no permanence. There's that poem by Keats, 'Ode on a Grecian Urn', which I'm particularly fond of, and to which I kept turning to as I was designing the aesthetic for The Death of Snow White.

On the other hand, the Queen's desire for permanence demanded that her costumes be some sort of capsules preserving time. That's why the structure of the mirror imposes itself on the rest of the stage, while the cherry blossom tree complements it. That's why I'm very fond of a character we introduced in the story, called Sakura. I think that Sakura provides the balance between the Mirror and Snow White.

Snow White's character and Sakura's are symbiotic; in the same way that the Queen feeds off the Mirror, aesthetically. However, at the very centre of this, beyond the researched visuals, there is a strong sense of spontaneity, a spontaneous attraction to this kind of beauty.

Maria Theuma (script writer): In The Death of Snow White, the Mirror embodies the eternal conflict that exists between truth and evil. I was particularly intrigued by the manner in which the Mirror, inherently evil, presents itself as the truth, and manages to bring about the downfall of a queen. The script reinterprets the Mirror as the Devil, Diabolus Speculi, (which is the Latin term for 'Devil in the Mirror)', a sort of Lucifer figure, itself perversely beautiful.

The Queen and the Mirror perform a pact which could be described as Faustian. As it pretends to speak the truth, and tells of the unsurpassed beauty of Snow White, the Mirror becomes representative of blasphemy. The orthodox and the blasphemous become antithetical.

While I was writing the script, I was occupying the post of teacher in a church school, a church school which harboured a strong sense of rigorous Catholicism. I think that the time I spent there somewhat left its effects on the writing process. Every day, I'd witness these young girls being exposed to so much doctrine and ritual, and I'd be particularly intrigued by the manner in which the children would respond to all that.

Some were curious, and would ask all sort of questions, but most of them accepted the moral and religious bearings imposed on them, and performed their duties and said their prayers without questioning anything.

I felt that most of them were filled with some kind of fear - fear of God, fear of sinning, fear of reading the wrong books, of behaving in the wrong manner.

When I decided that I wanted to explore and retell the tale of Snow White as kind of religious narrative, I felt that at the very centre of it, a little girl should be placed. The script calls her Tempastas, which means Time in Latin, but I feel that she is representative of so much more. She is a kind of prophetess, she warns the characters on stage and the audience of things to come, she is herself frightened and overwhelmed by the rage and madness that fills the story, she is story itself.

The tone of her voice is biblical, and as she dances to the sounds of her own prophecies, she both manipulates and is manipulated by the patterns of the narrative.

What would you say are the main differences between the Gozitan and the Maltese theatrical scenes, both in terms of audiences and the productions themselves?

LA: In Malta there are many more creative spaces than in Gozo.

JT: We exported our work to Malta because we had had a good response from Maltese audiences, and we are truly grateful for that. I'd also like to extend my thanks to Ray Attard of the Mediterranean Conference Centre for his gracious support throughout.

Performances start at 20:00. Tickets are at €10 for the Gozo show, €15 for the Malta shows. Bookings: 21 246389/25 595750 or online.