Alixandra Kish has an image in mind when she is dancing her role as the evil queen in the Lexington Ballet's Snow White.
"I imagine myself as the cartoon," she says, referring to the 1937 Disney version of the Brothers Grimm story. "I think cartoon characters get extra-dramatic. When I watch cartoons sometimes, I try to imagine actual humans moving and acting like they do, and I think that's a good visual for myself.
"And then I channel anything that could make me angry and worked up, ... whatever I can get to make myself passionate and angry."
Megan Coleman Stuart, who dances the queen's later incarnation, the old woman who attempts to kill the fair title character, says she has to be in sync with Kish's dark side and then take it a whole lot farther.
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"I feel like with her queen, she's the type who would be nice to your face but then say nasty things behind your back," Stuart says. "I'm the inner crazy that comes out and can't be controlled anymore."
They do it all in the service of Lexington Ballet artistic director Luis Dominguez's new vision of Snow White, which Dominguez says he updated from the ballet's 2006 version of the show and designed to fall somewhere between the Brothers Grimm version and Disney's. The ballet presents the work this weekend at the Lexington Opera House.
"It is a story that has been told from so many points of view and optics," Dominguez says. "The last time we did it, I realized we used music from so many different genres; I even used music from Batman in the forest scene.
"I personally didn't like it, and I realized that since we've had the professional company, we have gotten more serious," Dominguez says. (The ballet went for a few years without a professional corps after a financial crisis.)
In recent years, he has seen the ballet build a repertoire of strong works, including Giselle, Coppélia and of course The Nutcracker, that he says the company can perform in Lexington and on the road at the Eastern Kentucky University Center for the Arts in Richmond, where the ballet has performed twice in the past year. He says he sees Snow White joining that repertoire.
His first step was to "find one composer who could deliver the right, consistent tone."
He found that in Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, whose works helped create the narrative and drama that Dominguez needed, while challenging the dancers.
"It's beautiful music to dance to, and usually we dance in eights, but this is all over the place in counts," says Hayley-Ann Vasco, who dances the title role, explaining that the dancers usually count with the music to stay in step. "We can step on a one and step on a two, and we can count it easily, which helps us be all together. But if it's, say, a 13 we're trying to count and we can't hear it, it's harder for us to stay together. So that's why we have to rehearse so much."
That is a good challenge to have, Vasco and the other dancers say, because it helps prepare them to take on more complicated works.
And as far as the choices go, Kish says Sibelius' moody, dramatic Northern European music is great for getting her in a dark mood.
"It's very powerful, and it tells me what to do in some ways," says Kish, whose entrance is to Sibelius' signature work, Finlandia.
"If you put it through the optics of the story and give it a little twist, it works great," Dominguez says.
He has altered the story from the well-known Disney tale, but Dominguez and the dancers say that this version is accessible and family-friendly.
There is one twist to the end that squares with the Brothers Grimm version and makes Stuart very happy. Rather than falling to a deep and out-of-sight death, the queen is sentenced to wear shoes that force her to dance herself to death.
"It's a little more difficult than most of the other dancing that I do, because there's a certain amount of improv to it," says Stuart, who rates this and the Wicked Witch of the West in The Wizard of Oz as favorite roles. "I am doing the character as being out of control of her body, because she is not making the movement happen; it's the shoes."