The somewhat gruesome Snow White ballet, by the French company Ballet Preljocaj, is based on the 1812 Grimm Brothers fairytale. If you only know the Disney version of the story, parental guidance may be necessary.

This production, for the Auckland Arts Festival, centres on a series of episodes involving the beautiful young Snow White (Mirea Delogu) from her birth to her wedding day. Along the way, we meet the prince who has fallen in love with her (Antoine Dubois); her evil stepmother (Lea de Natale) who is so jealous of her stepdaughter's beauty, she crams a poisoned apple down her throat; deer-killing hunters and seven cliff-dwelling miners.

The leading characters are convincingly portrayed with the dancing closely tied to the moods and rhythms of the music and provide the necessary contrasts for each story to have its impact. Highlights include the despairing duet where the prince seeks to awaken Snow White and several of the more gruesome interactions with the evil stepmother.

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The lush score comprises atmospheric storms mixed with lilting melodies and tone poems from several Mahler symphonies, helping to establish settings which range from a palace ballroom to a shadowy forest, a rock face riddled with mines and a tower room filled by a giant mirror.

Costumes designed by John Paul Gaultier wrap, drape and reveal the bodies in conventionally suggestive ways, with binding and strapping and extra moulding for emphasis. The dominatrix-styled evil stepmother is a hard-edged contrast to the silk tunic clad Snow White.

Technological special effects add some magical touches. The evil stepmother consults a vast mirror in an ornate golden frame about the location and health of the "fairest of all" Snow White; the thrones in the throne room rise and fall at will and those punishing heated iron slippers seem to sizzle when placed on the wicked stepmother's feet.

What: Auckland Arts Festival and Ballet Preljocaj, Snow White.
Where & when: Dame Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre, until Saturday.
Reviewer: Raewyn Whyte