BWW Interviews: Todd Ivins Designs MIRROR, MIRROR: Envisioning a Modern Ballet Masterpiece
This May, the Milwaukee Ballet stages Artistic Director Michael Pink's World Premiere full-length ballet Mirror, Mirror. With Pink's innovative genius and darker, dramatic perspective on the fairy tale Snow White, Pink enlisted Todd Edward Ivins for the ballet's costume and set design. The pair collaborated several years ago under Milwaukee Rep's Artistic Director Mark Clements for the theater company's sellout musical, Cabaret (2010), while Ivins and his designs were instrumental in the success of Ragtime (2013) and the contemporary vision seen on stage in Shakespeare's Othello (2012). The Rep's Quadracci Powerhouse became a familiar place in Milwaukee where the pair could contemplate their reinvention of a beloved fairy tale.
With the production of this remarkable premiere ballet imagined by Pink, his reputation flourishes as an artistic director recently recognized for reinventing traditional ballet by infusing storytelling into classical choreography. To collaborate in this performance event, Ivins has been intensely designing and drafting his vision for Mirror, Mirror the past year, the culmination of at least a three-year process. In a phone interview from New York before Ivins flew to Milwaukee for the ballet's tech week, the renowned designer related how he created his version of costumes and sets for Pink's story.
Mirror, Mirror features a prologue plus two acts, a full-length contemporary fairy tale set to a commissioned original score by Philip Fenney. For Ivins, the scenery "needs to have a sense of this story, while his personal sense of scenery [relates to] is sculptural, immersive....to visually hold the attention of the audience since we live in an attention challenged world." Ivins continues in his desire for scenery, "To drink in this attention for the audience, and then be interactive with the dancers, heighten the sense of theatricality."
To illustrate this theatricality, the designer's inspiration and ultimately his research focused on the mirror, the classical symbol of narcissism and vanity in the fairy tale, which confronts the jealously of a stepmother for her stepdaughter's youthful beauty. The mirror's reflective qualities and Ivins' instinct and intent for a "through the looking glass" effect centered him on glass and glassblowing techniques, which he implies in the set design. So the scenery, as Ivins puts this, "Can be immersive and interactive, so this connects the performers to the world they dance in."
To complement Ivins's scenery for the modern fairy tale, the exceptionall Milwaukee Ballet Costume shop began construction on Ivins' designs a year ago while aiding him with their invaluable input. Ivins offers an extraordinary compliment when he says, "The shop does incredible work. When you've been working with people who have been in a costume shop longer than you've been designing, you listen. Also [for a new work], the costumes must move with the choreography and the dancers' bodies. "
To reflect Pink's themes in the costumes, Ivins dresses Snow White in shorter, diaphanous veils of white. Even in the wedding scene between Snow White's widowed father, Joseph and the wicked stepmother, Claudia, both costumes for the adults feature black garments while Snow White dares to be the one dressed in white. Ivins explains, "Pink's version [of the tale] intimately relates, follows this world through Snow White's eyes. For her, this wedding [of her father to her stepmother] is a funeral, the end of her happy life as she knows it. And draws on Michael's dangerous sense of certain events in the story."
Then Ivins relates, "There is one particularly beautiful moment in the ballet, where a large mirror separates Snow White and her stepmother. They wear the exact same costumes, one in white and one in black, and are getting dressed at the same moment, which carries incredible drama for the story."
The final drama perhaps crescendos to another milestone in ballet, the classical, modern ballet masterpiece envisioned by Pink and his collaborative team, whichunfolds this weekend at Milwaukee's Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. A culmination of Pink's ten year dream finally on stage. Dance, music and theater married into the somber yet realistic drama of the Snow White fairy tale, which allows humanity to clearly define these unsavory personal characteristics and then project their disillusionment with the world into the story so the heart can ultimately dsicover some healing after watching an ethereal ballet performance. The anticipation can only be part of the fantasy for opening night, Pink's decade of careful planning and Ivins's three years of designs dedicated to one world premiere: Mirror, Mirror.
Ivins enthusiastically concludes, "There's anticipation to the extreme power. To have ideas float in your head that are pure and utopian, that then become real. Not everything becomes real, but you try...what an emotional rollercoaster just watching the story [on stage]. A story [realized] from sketches that comes full circle from Michael steering the entire Mirror, Mirror universe...A wonderful experience that evolves when you create something from scratch, adding to the future of culture."
The Milwaukee Ballet presents the world premiere of Michael Pink's Mirror, Mirror at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts May 15, 16, 17and 18. For information or tickets, please visit: www.milwaukeeballet.org