Dance Archives

Isaac Mizrahi and Sergei Prokofiev Superintend a Beguiling “Peter and the Wolf” at the Guggenheim


Sergei Prokofiev wrote Peter and the Wolf in 1936; the 35-minute piece, intended to introduce children to symphonic instruments, has become one of the most frequently performed works in the classical repertoire, recorded by dozens of orchestras with celebrity narrators ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt to David Bowie, Sting, and Alice Cooper. Isaac Mizrahi took on the project for the Guggenheim’s Works and Process program ten years ago, reviving it periodically; this version, including a first-rate crew of seven dancers and thirteen live musicians, first saw the light in 2013.

The intimate Peter B. Lewis Theater, in the basement of the coiled museum, is an excellent fit for this miniature symphony, performed here by Ensemble Signal; a string quintet plays Peter’s theme, a woodwind quartet represents various other denizens of Central Park, a percussionist underscores a hapless hunter, and a French horn and some woodwinds give voice to a scruffy, hungry wolf. Brad Lubman conducts, a task involving the coordination of musicians all around him. The park benches filling the stage are shared by woodwinds and the wolf (powerful, testosterone-driven Daniel Pettrow, just scary enough), who slouches behind a newspaper, initially betraying his presence only by his furry feet and the gray tufts popping out of his ripped jeans. Mizrahi perches beside a huge trash can that doubles as a picnic table for the wolf, who swallows the duck (Marjorie Folkman) whole but has more elaborate plans, including a bottle of Chianti, for the rest of his prey.

Peter, played as a young preppy by Macy Sullivan in a striped propeller beanie, is rather casually supervised by his absent-minded grandfather in a Shriner-style fez; Gus Solomons Jr., one of the dance world’s beloved elders, plays this role with panache. A rangy cat — a “cool” one, natch — is inhabited by gorgeous modern dancer Kristin Foote, who hawks up a hairball that the narrator declines to touch.

Mizrahi meddles with the story hardly at all; his primary contributions to this production, beyond conceiving, directing, and narrating it, are the clever costume and set designs. In cahoots with choreographer John Heginbotham, also known for his wit and a recent successful collaboration with visual artist Maira Kalman, Mizrahi wraps one wall of the tiny stage in a giant tree trunk. A delicate bird, danced by Elizabeth Coker in black pointe shoes camouflaged to look like hi-tops and wearing a whistle around her neck, sits in its branches, and the wolf, lashing out at her, gets his claws caught in its bark. Pluck saves the day, as Peter and his buddies catch the wolf by the tail, tie him up, and get the befuddled hunter (Derrick Arthur) to take him to the (Bronx) zoo.

Round up a grade-schooler or two and go see it; if you can’t find a kid, go anyway. It’s just the right mixture of live symphonic music, several forms of dance, and the wit and style of New York icon Mizrahi, wrapped up in a round room across the street from the actual Central Park.

Peter and the Wolf
Guggenheim Museum, Peter B. Lewis Theater
1071 Fifth Avenue
December 8–10