A colorful and imaginative balletic rendition of the Alice In Wonderland stories.
By Joel Benjamin
Diana Byer’s New York Theatre Ballet is busy presenting a whirlwind of fascinating programs that appeal to children (without talking down to them), resurrecting lost classical ballet gems of interest to balletomanes and commissioning vibrant new works that show off the NYTB dancers. The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies: A Ballet Vaudeville, ingeniously staged by Keith Michael as a 1915 Palace Theater variety show based on the two Lewis Carroll Alice books and the original illustrations of John Tenniel, was aimed at children but was witty and lovely enough to appeal to parents as well.
The décor design by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith was richly colorful with a fanciful backdrop covered in Alice characters, a large doll house through which some characters entered and loads of playful cubes which came in handy during the show.
Ms. Byer began the show at the Florence Gould Hall as a genial host exhorting the youngsters to get up and make different shapes with their bodies helping these children empathize with the dancers on stage in a new way and get into the swing of things. Ms. Byer is a lovely den mother.
The Follies unfolded in a series of “vaudeville acts,” each named after a character. We first see Steven Melendez as the White Rabbit luring Alice (a lovely, picture-perfect Elena Zahlmann) through a large mirror frame to enter a fantasy world filled with all sorts of characters: an imperious Queen of Hearts (Brianna Steinfeldt, cold and regal), a Mad Hatter (Choong Hoon Lee, dexterous and properly crazy), the sleepy Dormouse (Michael Wells) and the famous Tweedledee and Tweedledum played by Seth Ives and Mitchell Kilby, both easygoing and natural vaudevillians. These two guys also were hilarious as Pig and Pepper who were accompanied by the most infectiously delicious Baby played by the adorable Charlotte Anub.
Each section was set to a period song or bit of classical music, starting with an Overture of “St. Louis Rag” for the upbeat opening and “Home Sweet Home” and Debussy’s “La Plus que Lente” as the calm of the Summer Afternoon which leads Alice into her adventures. The winding dance of the many-sectioned Caterpillar was wittily set to “Glow Worm” while the antics of the Mad Tea-Party were danced to the frenetic “Rigoletto Paraphrase” by Liszt. Tweedledee and Tweedledum were soft shoe buddies while the Cheshire Cat (Amanda Treiber) with her long, long tail was prettily balletic to “Silver Birds.”
The most imaginative scene was Jabberwocky in which the entire cast, sitting lined up on the wooden blocks, recited the Carroll poem while executing a very complex pat-a-cake upper body dance. They finally spelled “Jabberwocky” with the blocks.
The croquet game with the Queen of Hearts used arched dancers as croquet hoops and young NYTB students as very pliable Flamingoes and Hedgehogs.
This swift-paced, hour-long production ended in a rousing finale to the “Black and White Rag.” Mr. Michael’s staging challenged these young performers as dancers and actors as well as period stylists.
This hard-working troupe has a number of programs coming up over the next few months, all accessible, reasonably priced and impeccably presented.
*Photos: Richard Termine
The New York Theatre Ballet in The Alice-In-Wonderland Follies: A Ballet Vaudeville
January 25-26, 2014
Florence Gould Hall
55 East 59th St. between Madison and Park Aves.
New York, NY
Tickets: 800-982-2787 or www.ticketmaster.com
More Information: www.nytb.org