Choreographer Keith Michael calls The Alice in Wonderland Follies a ballet vaudeville and sets it in New York’s Palace Theater circa 1915, 50 years after the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Victorian masterwork. (It’ll be at Florence Gould Hall, June 8 through 10 and 15 through 17.) His musical choices range from 19th-century favorites by Robert Schumann to rags and pop songs of the pre-World War I era. These give the new hour-long enterprise—pitched at children but with enough visual wit and beautifully executed dancing to hold the most finicky ballet fan—a richness and intimacy rare on local stages, even the biggest ones.
The Alice books have been Disneyfied and otherwise sliced and diced for the stage by such august personages as Robert Wilson. Michael’s version, with exquisite nursery-furniture set pieces by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith and Sylvia Nolan’s impeccably executed costumes, manages to be utterly absorbing and true to its era while foregrounding ballet values. The Follies is very much a romp, incorporating acrobatics, ballroom, and burlesque movement styles. But the rigor of ballet defines it, and young audiences (I saw it at a preview in a theater full of inner-city kids and teachers) remain engrossed by the classical dancing as much as by their literary expectations, aligning the Tenniel images with the visions coming to life on stage.
The magic of Alice suddenly growing huge is represented by Christina Paolucci’s head emerging through the roof of a dollhouse, which is revealed to contain another, smaller dollhouse. An entire chorus line plays the Caterpillar. The classic “Jabberwocky” sequence, the work’s only excursion into speaking, is staged as a sort of juba hambone, gumboot-style rhythmic turn. Well-schooled youngsters are honeycombed throughout the cast. Imagine a totally unwired world, and the impact of so much visual richness on the children in it. Then unplug a 21st-century kid, and head for the Gould. —Elizabeth Zimmer
The New Jersey-based American Repertory Ballet (Joyce Theater, May) gives its terrifically gifted dancers a lot to chew on. Artistic Director Graham Lustig has them jive around in Marilyn wigs and Elvis togs in Silkscreens, which succeeds better than it knows in capturing Andy Warhol’s banality. For Lambarena, Val Caniparoli employed two experts on African movement to guide 13 dancers into an elegant, crowd-pleasing mix of pulled-up ballet and earthy traditional styles. Dominique Dumais brought more subtle elements to her a part between parts, a dark sextet full of declarative flinging and gymnastic solos. This ballet could be comic if it wanted, what with all the slumps and wolf howls and people shouting words beginning with a. It keeps a fascinating plastic tension, though, and its wise, difficult duets argue for strong women and men in strong relationships as one of the natural wonders of the world. —Alicia Mosier