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The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies

The New York Theatre Ballet introduces ballet to young audiences with a riff on the Lewis Carroll classic.

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A scene from New York Theatre Ballet’s production of Keith Michael’s “The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies” (Photo credit: Rachel Neville)

Joel Benjamin

Joel Benjamin, Critic

The New York Theatre Ballet under the steady artistic direction of Diana Byer, has many facets.  The NYTB not only trains young hopefuls at its reputable school and commissions new ballets, but restages little-known classical ballet gems by choreographers like Antony Tudor, Agnes DeMille and Jerome Robbins. It also introduces ballet to youngsters via programs like their recent The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies: A Ballet Vaudeville at the Florence Gould Hall.

Inspired by Lewis Carroll’s two Alice books and cleverly choreographed by Keith Michael, the Follies was preceded by Byer’s usual pre-show, uplifting audience-participation talk on the wonderful world of movement.  She got the many kids in the audience—well over half the attendees were seven and under—to get up and copy the postures and movements of some of the talented students from the New York Theatre Ballet School, all of whom had impeccable stage deportment.

A scene from New York Theatre Ballet’s production of Keith Michael’s “The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies” (Photo credit: Rachel Neville)

Taking its format from an imaginary 1915 Vaudeville show at the legendary Palace Theater, Follies is constructed as a series of scenes which cover a great deal of the Carroll narrative aided by the incredible scenery by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith and witty, colorful costumes by Byer stalwart Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan which brought to life the eccentric characters in Carroll’s books:  Alice, the White Rabbit, Tweedledee & Tweedledum (Joshua Andino-Nieto and Mitchell Kilby in eye-catching plaid), the Caterpillar & the Cards (actually seven student dancers led by Amanda Treiber) , the Cheshire Cat (Ms. Treiber using a l-o-n-g brown tail to great comic effect), the Queen of Hearts (Alexis Branagan, humorously imperious), the Mad Hatter (a springy Erez Milatin), the Flamingos (Mayu Oguri and Ms. Treiber in luscious pink) and the Teacups and the Hedgehogs (deliciously performed by young students in seriously creative costuming).  The standout, for me, was the Baby danced by the extraordinarily poised five-year-old Maria Laura Diallo who was tossed and swung about by the two Tweedles.  Even upside-down, Ms Diallo had equanimity and a charisma rare in a child.

A large cottage stood in the middle of the stage while cutouts of trees and other bits were scattered about the stage.  Large painted wooden cubes were used variously as chairs, walls and to spell out the world “jabberwocky” which was chanted rhythmically by the entire cast as they stomped and clapped.  The cottage was taken apart, its pieces used as props, including the frame of the fabled looking-glass.  Alice is first seen wearing a tiny version of this cottage designed by Brian W. Griffin and painted by Nancy Horne, as if she had grown so large that the house became a new blouse and its roof a hat.

A scene from New York Theatre Ballet’s production of Keith Michael’s “The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies” (Photo credit: Rachel Neville)

Using a combination of period music—from the “St. Louis Rag” to “Glow Worm” to Sousa to “Pomp and Circumstance Marches” on to “Oh, You Beautiful Doll”—the sections moved quickly along, except for a love duet to Elgar’s “Salut d’Amour” for Alice (a lovely, Alice-look-alike, Elena Zahlmann) and the White Rabbit (Byer protégé Steven Melendez) that could have been livelier.

The hour-long program kept the interest of both the parents and the children.  The gung-ho performance of the cast of well-directed dancers kept the energy flowing.

The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies (April 28-29, 2018)

New York Theatre Ballet

Florence Gould Hall, 55 East 59th Street, in Manhattan

For upcoming NYTB events, visit http://www.nytb.org

For tickets, call 212-355-6160 or visit http://www.nytb.org

Running time:  one hour and ten minutes without an intermission

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Joel Benjamin
About Joel Benjamin (274 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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