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Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater

This enchanting, imaginative production takes you down the rabbit hole through July 24

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass offer such rich, exciting material for visual representation that it's no surprise they've served as the subject or inspiration for numerous adaptations on the stage and screen. In fact, this was always Carroll's intention. The book was never meant to sit on a shelf, collecting dust. He wrote it dramaturgically so it could be enacted and performed according to the visions of a mind as wonderfully twisted as his.

That brilliant mind belongs to MOMIX's Artistic Director, Moses Pendleton and Associate Director Cynthia Quinn. After seeing his company's production of ALICE, it is hard to picture a more imaginative interpretation of the classic text. This live-action psychedelic trip awaits you at the Joyce Theater through July 24 -- no need for psychotropic substances! MOMIX: ALICE is an exhilarating 90-minute head rush and sensory overload that transports you from any 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 fever dream, it's a feat of artistic achievement that almost seems unreal, but that's what makes its excellence all the more astonishing. The company members of MOMIX are called dancer-illusionists for a good reason; what they pulled off in this show seemed superhuman. But there was no hocus pocus, tricks or sleight of hand involved; all of the magic is a product of visionary ideas, creative costuming and props, and bodies with extraordinary ability.

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater
Jade Primicias as Alice and Colton Wall as Lewis Carroll in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo by Equilibre Monaco.

The tone is set from the moment the heavy purple drapes open to reveal Alice (played in turns or all at once by the entire female company: Heather Conn, Aurelie Garcia, Seah Hagen, Elise Pacicco, and Jade Primicias). She appears to be floating in the air while reading her book. Lewis Carroll (Colton Wall) is supporting her with a ladder that becomes a see-saw, and the two engage in a delightful duet with the apparatus as their propeller. The video projections (designs by Woodrow F. Dick III) show a pastoral scene from Vermont, which is fitting because Pendleton was born and raised on a dairy farm in that state. This scene, entitled "A Summer Day," is a gentle way to lull the viewer into the wild and wondrous world they are about to witness.

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

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater
"A Trip of Rabbits" in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo by Equilibre Monaco.

Perhaps the greatest magic trick is how only eight performers could pull off what seemed like a thousand roles that required exceptional ballet and contemporary dance technique, acrobatics, puppetry, command of challenging props and costumes, and acting skills for a breathless 90-minutes straight.

MOMIX: ALICE consists of a whopping twenty-two individual dance pieces. All of them were wonderful, but there were some outstanding standouts. "The Tweedles" featured four dancers (two men, two women) wearing oversized masks with blown-up photo faces of babies. Their sexy, slithery undulations were wackily juxtaposed with the funky music and grimacing infant heads. "Advice From A Blue Caterpillar" takes the famous hookah-smoking caterpillar and breaks the body into segments courtesy of large cerulean balance balls ("MOMIX has big blue balls!" Pendleton snickered gleefully at the talk back). Wearing wrestler-style unitards and bright red sneakers, this collective caterpillar is a fitness buff! The athletic movements of the dancers who work as one and then come apart for individual moments are almost Olympian. Their movements are mirrored by 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 large red and black hoop skirts resembling a lobster's outer shell. They twirl and manipulate these garments around their bodies and heads to form various shapes. Like the whirling dervishes, it's mesmerizing to watch.

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater
Seah Hagan as "The Queen of Diamonds" in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo by Equilibre Monaco.

Every piece seemed to heighten its creativity and inventiveness. "The Queen of Diamonds" was an especially exciting number where Seah Hagan, regal and resplendent in red, got to show off her exquisite balletic technique and acrobatic skills with the help of bungee cords that lifted her up to great heights. Another gem was "The Queen of Clubs Versus the Queen of Spades," where two gorgeous, lithe queens in sheer black body suits with strategically-placed clubs and spades are rolled around by their "attendants" who aren't just at their feet -- they are their feet! Other memorable numbers happened on the other side of the Looking Glass. Alice morphs into a giant wolf spider for "The Wolf-Spied-Her" (puppet design by Michael Curry) before passing into the haunted funhouse of horror "Cracked Mirrors," where the reflection creates an illusion that the performers are dancing with their disconnected body parts. "There is Another Shore," a charming beachside pas de quatre, offered an oasis from the chaos, if only for a moment. The marvelous madness returns for "Into the Woods," where outrageous acrobatics transform the dancers into trees, and "Garden of Molar Bears and Other Creatures," where stretchy fabric obscures all human features and makes odd amoebous shapes. (Unfortunately, the performer's vision is blurred, and one dancer tumbled offstage and then returned to thunderous applause).

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater
The Queen of Clubs Versus the Queen of Spades in MOMIX: ALICE. Photo by Equilibre Monaco.

Each piece is enchanting and could easily stand on its own. But the curation and flow of the evening were particularly well done with a mix of highly energetic or visually stimulating pieces contrasted with more ethereal, moody meditations in motion. This is especially notable with short-attention-span audiences that require breaks, and dance companies typically don't have shows that run longer than 50-60 minutes in one seating, maximum. But splitting up the show with an intermission would be detrimental and break the spell. So in a performance that flew by and left you dazed and dazzled, there was no need for that.

When asked about how MOMIX develops its creations, Pendleton was quick to give credit to the fact it takes a village to bring such visions to life. "It's a collaborative effort, and everyone has their role." Essential factors that are brought into the rehearsal room the moment a piece is being conceived are the costumes and props by Phoebe Katzin (constructed by Katzin and Beryl Taylor). The dreamy or nightmarish lighting by Michael Korsch, music collage by Pendleton, edited by Andrew Hanson, and video design by Woodrow F. Dick also contributed to transporting the viewer to a gloriously imaginative world.

Review: MOMIX: ALICE at The Joyce Theater
Journey "Into the Woods" with MOMIX: ALICE. Photo by Equilibre Monaco.

When Alice and Alice lay down upon a floating bed of roses, pulling the flower from each other as a pillow fight or bedsheet tug-o-war, I thought how remarkable MOMIX's vision was so flawlessly 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" came on for the final scene of the White Rabbit himself, falling into a hole of his own creation. This was followed by Alice rising to her tall heights again. I would say "nobody's perfect" (though MOMIX: ALICE is as close to perfection as anything I could imagine in my wildest dreams). Yet, when I found myself humming the tune out of the theater, I forgave them for falling into the rabbit hole of cliche, just that once. That obvious choice allowed me to wake up and reenter the real world while longing to rejoin the fabulous creatures of Wonderland. This is a trip that merits many return visits.




From This Author - Cindy Sibilsky

Cindy Sibilsky is a Broadway, Off Broadway, U.S. and international Producer, Tour Producer, Marketing/PR Director and theatre, film, arts & culture and travel writer/reviewer specializing in global... (read more about this author)


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