ALICE at the Joyce Theater

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by Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and on the other side of the mirror offer such rich and exciting material for visual representation that it is no surprise that they have served as the subject or inspiration for numerous stage and screen adaptations. In fact, that was always Carroll’s intention. The book was never meant to sit on a shelf, gathering dust. He wrote it dramaturgically so that it could be staged and performed according to the visions of a mind as wondrously twisted as his own.

This brilliant mind belongs to MOMIX Artistic Director Moses Pendleton and Associate Director Cynthia Quinn. After seeing his company’s production of ALICE, it is difficult to imagine a more imaginative interpretation of the classic text. This live-action psychedelic journey awaits you at the Joyce Theater until July 24 — no mind-altering drugs needed! MOMIX: ALICE is an exhilarating 90-minute head rush and sensory overload that transports you from all the cares of the day, allowing you to sit back, relax, and float downstream into the wild world of Wonderland Through the Looking Glass. Like a hallucination or a fever dream, it’s an artistic feat that seems almost unreal, but that’s what makes its excellence all the more astonishing. The members of the MOMIX company are called dancer-illusionists for a good reason; what they achieved in this show seemed superhuman. But there was no sleight of hand, tricks or sleight of hand involved; all magic is the product of visionary ideas, creative costumes and props, and bodies of extraordinary ability.

Jade Primicias as Alice and Colton Wall as Lewis Carroll in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo Equilibre Monaco.

The tone is set from the moment the heavy purple curtains open to reveal Alice (played in turn or at the same time by the entire female company: Heather Conn, Aurelie Garcia, Seah Hagen, Elsie Pacicco and Jade Primicias) . She seems to be floating in the air while reading her book. Lewis Carroll (Colton Wall) supports her with a ladder that becomes a swing, and the two engage in a delightful duet with the device as a propeller. The video projections (designs by Woodrow F. Dick III) show a Vermont pastoral scene, which is fitting as Pendleton was born and raised on a dairy farm in that state. This scene, titled “A Summer’s Day”, is a gentle way of lulling the spectator into the wild and marvelous world he is about to witness.

As expected, Alice falls down the rabbit hole and the party begins! She encounters various versions of herself, shrinking and then growing, reaching the ceiling with pale, flowing skirts like a banshee. At some point, these “Alices” are revealed to be or become inhumanly moving puppets. Then, the inhabitants of this magical and mysterious world appear in the aptly titled title “A Trip of Rabbits”. (Groups of rabbits are called a trip). Here, the other two men from the company (Nathaniel Davis and Sean Langford) join in the mayhem. With their faces obscured by slightly sinister bunny masks, one could focus more on their highly expressive forms and animalistic gestures, including odd jerky jerky movements and clusters where they flowed as one entity.

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at the Joyce Theater
“A journey of rabbits” in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo Equilibre Monaco.

Perhaps the greatest magic trick is how just eight performers were able to perform what seemed like a thousand roles that required exceptional ballet and contemporary dance technique, acrobatics, puppetry, mastery of tricky props and costumes and acting skills for 90 minutes straight.

MOMIX: ALICE consists of twenty-two individual dance pieces. All were wonderful, but there were a few standouts. “The Tweedles” featured four dancers (two male, two female) wearing oversized masks with enlarged photo faces of babies. Their sexy, curvy waves were wacky juxtaposed against funky music and grinning infant heads. “Advice From A Blue Caterpillar” takes the famous hookah-smoking caterpillar and splits the body into segments with big cerulean balance balls (“MOMIX has big blue balls!” Pendleton chuckled happily at the retort). Wearing wrestler-style units and bright red sneakers, this collective caterpillar is a fitness buff! The athletic movements of the dancers working together and then breaking apart for individual moments are almost Olympian. Their movements are reflected in real-time video projections that create a kaleidoscopic image. The ladies get a fancy dance for the “Lobster Quadrille”, where their dance partners are the tall red and black skirts resembling the outer shell of a lobster. They twist and manipulate these garments around their body and head to form various shapes. Like the whirling dervishes, it’s fascinating to watch.

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at the Joyce Theater
Seah Hagan as “The Queen of Diamonds” in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo Equilibre Monaco.

Each piece seemed to exacerbate his creativity and inventiveness. “The Queen of Diamonds” was a particularly exciting number where Seah Hagan, regal and resplendent in red, was able to show off her exquisite ballet technique and acrobatic skills using bungee cords that carried her to great heights. Another gem was “Queen of Clubs versus Queen of Spades”, where two gorgeous, lithe queens dressed in see-through black suits with strategically placed clubs and spades are rolled up by their “attendants” who are not just at their feet – – they or they are their feet! Other memorable numbers have happened on the other side of the looking glass. Alice transforms into a giant wolf spider for “The Wolf-Spied-Her” (puppet design by Michael Curry) before moving into the haunted horror funhouse “Cracked Mirrors”, where the reflection creates the illusion that the performers dance with their disconnected body parts. “There’s Another Shore,” a charming pas de quatre along the beach, offered an oasis from the chaos, if only for a moment. The wondrous madness returns for “Into the Woods,” where outrageous acrobatics transform dancers into trees, and “Garden of Molar Bears and Other Creatures,” where stretchy fabric obscures all human features and creates strange amoebic shapes. (Unfortunately, the performer’s vision is blurry and a dancer fell off stage and then came back to thunderous applause).

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at the Joyce Theater
The queen of clubs versus the queen of spades in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo Equilibre Monaco.

Each piece is enchanting and could easily stand on their own. But the curation and flow of the evening was particularly well done with a mix of highly energetic or visually stimulating pieces contrasting with more ethereal and moody moving meditations. This is especially noticeable with audiences with short attention spans that require breaks, and dance companies generally don’t have shows that last more than 50-60 minutes in a single spot, max. But splitting the show with an intermission would be detrimental and break the spell. So in a performance that soared and left you giddy and dazzled, there was no need for that.

When asked about how MOMIX develops its designs, Pendleton was quick to recognize that it takes a village to bring such visions to life. “It’s a collaborative effort, and everyone has their role.” The critical factors that are brought into the rehearsal room the moment a play is conceived are Phoebe Katzin’s costumes and props (constructed by Katzin and Beryl Taylor). Michael Korsch’s dreamy or nightmarish lighting, Pendleton’s musical collage, edited by Andrew Hanson, and Woodrow F. Dick’s video design also help transport the viewer into a gloriously imaginative world.

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at the Joyce Theater
Trip “In the woods” with MOMIX: ALICE. Photo Equilibre Monaco.

When Alice and Alice lay on a floating bed of roses, pulling the flower apart like a pillow fight or tug of the sheets, I thought how remarkable the vision of MOMIX was so perfectly creative and didn’t fall prey to easy traps. or cliches. Then the unmistakable sounds of Grace Slick’s vocals on the ubiquitous psychedelic song “White Rabbit” emerged for the final scene of the White Rabbit himself falling through a hole of his own making. This was followed by Alice who again reached her heights. I would say “no one is perfect” (although MOMIX: ALICE is as close to perfection as anything I could imagine in my wildest dreams). Yet when I found myself humming the tune from the theater, I forgave them for falling down the cliche rabbit hole, just once. This obvious choice allowed me to wake up and reenter the real world while yearning to join the fabulous creatures of Wonderland. It is a trip that deserves many return visits.

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