It’s amazing that Moses Pendleton and his Momix collaborators—the members of this extraordinary dance/theater troupe—haven’t latched onto Lewis Carroll’s surreal Alice tales before.
Their current season at The Joyce Theater in Chelsea makes up for that lack with the brand new work, Alice, subtitled “Down the Rabbit Hole.” It is yet another display of artistic director Pendleton’s flair for over-the-top display of costumes, lights, videos and sets, not to mention using his eight gorgeous dancers. It is to their credit that their stellar prowess was never subsumed by their newest giddy surroundings.
Pendleton, in a program note, assures us that Alice is not a retelling of Carroll’s book. Rather, he used some of the events and characters from the book, dividing the evening-length work into twenty-two sections with titles like “A Summer Day,” “A Trip of Rabbits,” “The Cheshire Cat,” “The Queen of Diamonds” and “The Wolf-Spied-Her.” Although characters reappear—Alice, the Rabbits and the various playing cards queens—the episodes don’t particularly flow one into the other. The takeaway is a series of fanciful images rather than a cogent whole work of theater.
When first seen, Alice (Jade Primicias), in a flowing white dress (brilliant, shape-shifting costumes by Phoebe Katzin) is afloat reading the Carroll book. She is held aloft on a seesaw manipulated by a formally dressed gentleman who lowers her enough so that she can gambol about the stage where she confronts several versions of herself before sinking into large cylindrical containers, falling into darkness and a world of otherworldly creatures.
There were some arresting images, aided by Woodrow F. Dick III’s mood and place illuminating videos and projections which included a lovely pastoral scene at the beginning and lots of swirling colors. Michael Korsch’s lighting complemented Dick’s work.
Scenes included what seemed like a stage-full of skittering White Rabbits, a Blue Caterpillar assembled from well-coordinated large blue beach balls, four women in long gowns seeming to float across the stage, and, most memorable, Alice as a huge white spider: all products of the troupe’s consolidated imaginations.
So intent on turning themselves into living embodiments of Carroll’s oddball characters, one dancer actually did fall off the stage during a particularly psychedelically lit episode during which his costume must have limited his peripheral vision. He/she got right back on the stage to supportive applause.
Pendleton’s choice of musical tidbits, including Grace Slick’s famous “White Rabbit,” is aural wallpaper, providing repetitious, but musically unsophisticated, new-agey background for the dancers and their machinations.
My only concern about this particular work and Momix in general is that in the overarching pursuit of mind-boggling visual splendor human emotions get lost in the barrage of imagery. The audience may ooh and aah as Alice rises to the rafters and video projected doors actually open to reveal White Rabbits and March Hares, but the dancers become props, not people.
Until emotions and psychology find their way into Pendleton’s brainchildren, feel okay to sit back to bask and enjoy what Momix has to offer. It is still a lot and it is still splendidly visually rewarding.
Momix’s Alice (through July 24, 2022)
The Joyce Theater, 175 Eighth Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-242-0800 or visit http://www.Joyce.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission