Performing to the first sold out house at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center in over two years, MOMIX proved that after 42 years it can still dazzle an audience with its use of movement, lighting, props, puppets, and talented performers. Founder and Artistic Director Moses Pendleton’s latest work ALICE promised to take the audience down the rabbit hole, and although it did not quite meet that goal, metaphorically or otherwise, the work was a constant array of illusions.
Beginning with a very large image of the man who dreamed up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass (1871), Lewis Carroll, was projected on the front scrim with a smoking question, Who are you?, being emitted from his lips as if he were blowing smoke rings. This fades into what first appears to be Alice reading a book while suspended mid-air. The illusion is brief as she begins to rotate revealing a man controlling her motions while she is sitting on a ladder. This was a beautiful duet/trio during which Pendleton utilizes every imaginable possibility – and then some – of the two humans and a ladder. Alice gently and effortlessly floats, flies, spins, leaps, runs and more.
The entire two act production of Alice delivers one literary character from Carrol’s books after another and especially during Act One they seem to magically appear and disappear from inside a projected screen. The timing was perfect with the lighting effects during Act One leaving one to ask, how did they do that, but in Act Two that lack of strict timing sadly answered that question. It did not, however, destroy the fun.
The projections involved doors that shrunk and grew, opened and closed as members of the cast stood behind, entered or exited them. Stain glass windows became vehicles for eerie ghost-like figures, though trapped inside, shape shifted about. Three female puppets that were almost duplicates of three of the cast members, went through many of the transformations that Carrol envisioned for Alice while tempting her with vials of drink or pieces of cake.
Pendleton brought alive most of Carrol’s characters, although occasionally one had to stretch one’s imagination to figure it out. For example, the door mouse had me fooled as did three men with oversized white barrels with a hypnotic symbol painted on the bottom. The section was fun and inventive, but these characters were lost on me. The mean Queen of Hearts was extremely tame, but the Queen of Spades with her two human roller skates was someone not to trifle with.
Memorable sections included large blue exercise balls that were put through their paces and with the help of real-time video, multiplied and exploded into a kaleidoscopic treat. Three dancers with large mirrors became three duets, and to others in the audience humor was abundant with several dancers wearing oversize baby heads – which I do not remember reading about in the Alice adventures.
Pendleton’s choices of music was diverse and of course, he ended the evening with Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” words and music by Grace Wing Slick.
“One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she’s ten feet tall”
In Pendleton’s version of the tale, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass melted together and the storyline became obscured at times, but one thing remained apparent, Pendleton and his Assistant Director Cynthia Quinn have not lost any of their creative skills and, as the visual technology advances, so do their imaginations.
The eight versatile dancers who made it appear as though there were a cast of at least twenty, included Heather Conn, Nathaniel Davis, Sean Hagan, Aurelie Garcia, Sean Langford, Elise Pacicco, Jade Primicias, and Colton Wall.
Kudos to the entire creative team. Alice was Conceived and Directed by Moses Pendleton; Associate Director: Cynthia Quinn; Lighting Designer: Michael Korsch; Costume Designer: Phoebe Katzin; Ballet Mistress: Victoria Mazzarelli.
Also, special mention goes to everyone working backstage, above and in the light & sound booth that made Pendleton’s incredible vision come to life.
To learn more about MOMIX, please visit their WEBSITE.
To see what is playing at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, please visit their WEBSITE.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: MOMIX: Alice – Photo by Equilibre Monaco
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