Auckland Arts Festival has today announced its headline act for 2020 – and while ballet fans are in for a treat, those who like the Disney version of fairytales might see red.

French company Ballet Preljocaji brings to town its dark retelling of Snow White with costumes by fashion iconoclast Jean Paul Gaultier set to a score by Gustav Mahler. Rather than being inspired by Disney's vision of a cutely-dressed Snow White, in a chocolate-box cottage home to seven whistling dwarves, choreographer Angelin Preljocaj has taken his cue from the original – and far more visceral – Grimm Brothers' 1812 story.

It means visionary fashion designer Gaultier had creative license to conjure up costumes for a more erotically charged production. The wicked queen bursts upon the scene clad in a black fetish-inspired corset, a red cape and thigh-high stiletto heels looking more like a dominatrix than anyone's ageing step mum and there isn't a dwarf in sight; just ripped-looking construction worker types in artfully arranged overalls who make a show-stopping entrance quite unlike anything Disney, or the Grimms, may have dreamed up.

Preljocaj says he's long been more interested in the wicked stepmother than the virginal snow white because of her "narcissistic determination not to give up on seduction and her role as a woman, even if it means sacrificing her stepdaughter."


It is not Ballet Preljocaji first visit to New Zealand; the company staged Les 4 Saisons in the 2007 Auckland Arts Festival. While the full programme will be announced in November, AAF has already revealed it will join the worldwide Beethoven 250 celebrations with a series of concerts and events to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth.

Auckland Arts Festival opens on March 11, 2020; Snow White runs March 11 – 15 at the Kiri Te Kanawa Theatre, Aotea Centre. Tickets are now on sale.