Thursday, 28 July 2022

Review: ALICE by MOMIX, Joyce Theater, New York City

How, just how, has it been nine years since I last reviewed an experimental production based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) for this blog? Well, the world’s second most translated novel is always inspiring new artistic treatments, and last week I was lucky enough to watch ALICE, the MOMIX dance company’s take on the classic tale, at the Joyce Theater in NYC.

Founded and directed by Moses Pendleton, MOMIX is known for innovative choreography and illusions using the human form, and the original Alice story is full of incidents and moments that lend themselves to this surrealist treatment. The show doesn’t really have a narrative. Instead, we move through a series of dances encapsulated different parts of Carroll’s book. Below I describe a few of my favorites…

A Summer Day: The set displays an idyllic English landscape. A girl in a white dress reads a book titled ALICE, after turning it upside down. She’s sitting on one end of a ladder on wires. The other is manipulated by a bowtied man. Sometimes she soars high; sometimes she comes gliding down. The book falls. Her feet graze the floor. Are the pair playing on a seesaw, dancing a duet, or bicycling together through midair? It’s a bright and playful start to the show, but by the time this first dance ends we already feel twisted around, like we’ve tumbled down a rabbit hole, headfirst.

The Tweedles: Four muscular bodies clothed only in nude underwear. The dancers’ faces? Hidden. The dancers wear giant cardboard cutouts of babies’ faces, which look bizarre and alien at this scale. The two pairs of “twins” gyrate, their movements synchronized. How can something so symmetrical feel so disturbing?

The Lobster Quadrille: Women in giant red and black hoop skirts prance around the stage, while a song plays. Carroll’s lyrics are repetitive and haunting (“will you, won’t you join the dance?”). The dancers’ boned skirts becomes their exoskeletons, which they manipulate into different shapes. The women aren’t women at all, but ballroom crustaceans. Soon their heads are swallowed by their costumes, leaving them looking like a series of huge, inhuman, and still dancing claws.

Cracked Mirrors: Another series of “duets” but now the performers are dancing with their own reflections, holding up large looking glasses as they move. At some angles the men in the mirrors appear to be totally different performers. At some moments, we lose sight of limbs. Bodies seem to be fractured here, just like any sense of self we had when we entered this strange world, where people don’t just grow or shrink, but multiply.

What show would you like to see the Secret Victorianist review next? Let me know—here, on Facebook, on Instagram, or by tweeting @SVictorianist.