Last Friday night, Musco Center for the Arts presented “Alice” by the formidable movement company MOMIX. The dancer-illusionist company prides itself on the ability to bend and extend the body as a prop in order to trick the eye into believing and seeing something otherworldly. With “Alice” loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” the absurd logic to each of the twenty four vignettes in both Act I and Act II fit MOMIX’s physical technique of beauty and wacky spectacles. As the lights dimmed, an image of Lewis Carroll appeared over the curtains while a composite of voiceover and music from Disney’s animation movie Alice in Wonderland played over the speaker. With such a strong tie and reference to Lewis Carroll right off the bat, it was impossible to let go of the natural progression, characters, and story that most know and love. Founder and Artistic Director, Moses Pendleton, alerted the audience that “we don’t intend to retell the whole Alice story…but to use it as a taking off point for the invention.” For this reason, many parts of the performance from a design and production standpoint seemed a letdown, and the choreographic humor did not often support the space and stage.

MOMIX - Alice - Photo by Sharen Bradford

MOMIX – ALICE – Photo by Sharen Bradford

In Act I, we had “The Tweedles” which consisted of four dancers in nude undergarments wearing blown up photos of an individual baby’s face attached to their heads. As the dancers moved, the facial expression stayed the same, and comical by nature, the physicality never matched the baby. While it takes hours and hours and hours of practice to give the illusion of synchronicity, the choreography itself was only subpar to the illusion of big heads and small bodies. Later on, we see the Mad Hatters walk on the stage with large bright yellow buckets attached to their lower half, like they were sitting and walking at once. With a red spiral on the base of the bucket, we are given the concept of something zany or eccentric, but the piece never pushed the choreographic boundaries of what could have been vaudevillian comical gold. In many of the pieces, it seemed the prop was wearing the dancer, and not the other way around. Act Two gave us a small, less than two minute performance of “The Wolf-Spied-Her” where a woman in a creamsicle sleeveless gown on all fours adorned mammoth sized spider legs off a wearable piece on her back. The audience gasped and even clapped at the sight of her, but as soon as she stood up, walked upstage, the curtain closed leaving us with a missed opportunity of beautiful choreographic importance.

Momix Alice - Photo by Sharen Bradford

Momix Alice – Photo by Sharen Bradford

While the frustrating story line kept the audience on their toes, it is impossible to deny the sheer fearlessness in which the dancers possess. Instead of just one red queen, we got four queens of all colors and prerogatives. The Queen of Diamonds, in red tussled tulle, and a tight bejeweled leotard, was harnessed to the rafters above as she swung like an acrobat through the air. Technically crisp, hitting every musical mark, she gave us childlike innocence and ill temper tantrums, and on top of all that it was breathtaking to watch her float from side to side. In another vignette titled “Bed of Roses” we see enlarged buds of red roses attached from the stem seemingly floating up and down the black curtain behind them. Two dancers in stark white dresses emerge from upstage, running with the ongoing theme of appearing and disappearing, while gently tossing the rose buds up to the sky with the back of their hands. Like bumping a deflated balloon to the ceiling, we saw the buds rise up and down, gently making their way to the stage floor. While, again, the choreography was tedious and lacking excitement, the illusion of large petals gave the moment a dream-like state of repetition and routine.

MOMIX - Alice - Photo by Sharen Bradford

MOMIX – Alice – Photo by Sharen Bradford

Dancers Heather Conn, Nathaniel Davis, Derek Elliott Jr., Aurelie Garcia, Hailey Green, Seah Hagan, and Adam Ross often put themselves in what seemed nearly impossible positions. In Act I “Alice Down the Rabbit Hole” the four women popped out of circular pipe-like props with a hollow interior of all different lengths and widths. Knowing each dancer must be taller than the given pipe, they still gave the illusion of being sucked into an air tight compartment. It is this type of mirage that is not only celebrated by the audience, but the groundwork for MOMIX’s success the past forty years.

While I felt “Alice” missed a rare opportunity to put inventiveness back into its choreographic style, especially with such an inventive storyline of wonderment, it is the magical charm and impractical approaches to illusion that keep us engaged with works by MOMIX again and again and again. Pendleton writes, “It’s not modern dance, it’s MOMIX – under the spell of Lewis Carroll, who was under the spell of Alice – who was still learning to spell.” With much of our attention these days towards the multitasking of screens, it was a grounding moment to come back to the body and explore all the ways it can be used as an imaginary tool once again.

For more information about MOMIX, please visit their website.

To learn more about the Musco Center for the Arts, please visit their website.

Written by Grace Courvoisier for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image:  Momix Viva Momix – Photo by John Kane