BWW Reviews: New York Theatre Ballet: Keith Michael's Alice-in-Wonderland Follies

By Holly Kerr, Broadway World
Thursday January 30, 2014

 New York Theatre Ballet's Production of Keith Michael's Alice-in-Wonderland Follies, A Ballet Vaudeville is a fantastic production. This is a rave review because there is no more delightful or charming production to be found in New York City. The sheer inventiveness of the choreography is comparable to anything on Broadway or that can be seen in the large ballet venues at Lincoln Center. New York Theatre Ballet is a New York cultural jewel and the nation's most widely seen chamber ballet company. The dancers are attractive, accomplished, versatile and technically secure. Beyond this, they are excellent actors and entertainers. The company performs small masterpieces with great mastery and style. Keith Michael's The Alice-in-Wonderland Follies is one of these masterpieces. In the program notes by Mr. Michael, he states that the Alice-in-Wonderland Follies ballet aspires to the "hyperbolic lunacy of vaudevillian pioneers Joe Weber and Lew Field's hucksterism: What a jumble of jollification." New York Theatre Ballet's production is indeed jolly, but also it is a cornucopia of theatrical and balletic innovation, telling the Alice-in-Wonderland story (usually presented as a jumble) in a clear and cohesive follies format. Geared for children, this production has so much wit and dance excellence that even the most jaded ballet fans will be surprised and delighted by its freshness.

Mr. Michael has a huge knowledge of the great theatre and dance choreographers and producers and gives an affectionate nod to them. Dance and theatre aficionados will delightedly note the witty salutes to Balanchine, Bournonville, Ziegfeld and several classic Broadway shows. Mr. Michael's intelligent and inspired musical choices of vaudeville, classical, and folk tunes similarly orchestrated, weave the sweet dance numbers together like a honeycomb.

The exquisite period sets, property designs and scenic paintings by Gillian Bradshaw-Smith are brilliantly conceived and often become performers in the show. In the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, young ballet students are costumed as tables with tea cups on their heads as hats. Alice's opening number begins with her as an actual dancing house. Both the colorful costume designs by Sylvia Taalsohn Nolan and the lighting design by Ted Sullivan are an integral part of the production and serve it well.

Although all of the numbers are excellent--there were standout audience pleasers. Pig and Pepper is a hilarious number featuring a Duchess, a Cook, and an adorable Baby, a small and delightfully theatrically savvy very young ballet student. The Tweedledum and Tweedledee duet is pure comic vaudeville deftly crafted, translated and performed as dance entertainment. The male dancers in these two numbers are superb. Amanda Treiber is witty and glamorous as The Cheshire Cat with the long, long tail. The rendering of the Jabberwocky (usually a frightening and confusing poem for young children) as a rhythmic clapping a cappella number for the entire adult cast is brilliant in both design and performance.

I wish the program would list the actual performers of each number-so I could have singled out more individual dancers. However, all of the New York Theatre Ballet professional and students dancers were simply wonderful. Diane Byer has sustained a New York City cultural treasure that features an invaluable ballet company and school, and an extensive arts outreach program that has built a devoted audience.

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