Dancers fused styles, characters and genres in an interpretation of the Lewis Carroll classic.
The Portico Dance Theatre celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a revival of its inaugural performance: “Project Alice.” This compilation of dances combines different styles and genres and is based loosely around the characters and plot points of the beloved Lewis Carroll classic.
Immediately striking was the program for the show: It titled and listed main performers/characters for each dance, but what stood out are the parentheticals that followed this standard fair. Taking different popular interpretations of “Alice and Wonderland,” each dance attempted to tackle a different component of mental health.
The show began with Alice and “the conductor” running through the audience and up to the stage. It would later be illuminated that the conductor was the white hare, who is essentially Alice’s tour guide in the classic story. Though arguably the main characters, neither Alice nor the conductor ever actually danced.
The opening number was a gorgeous group routine. Contemporary, lyrical choreography was coupled with the use of long sheets of silk, which dancers were wrapped in and twirled out of. The dance was intended to represent the concept of REM Sleep, as stated in the program, and it was a really beautiful way to start the show. Seeing these women changing characters and performing all of these different styles of dance in such a short span of time was impressive. For example, one of the dancers in the opening number became the Queen of Hearts shortly before intermissions and perform a very theatrical latin-based routine that was nothing like the very flowy, expressive opener.
The only time I was really confused by the show was when characters from fables or children’s stories other than “Alice in Wonderland” began making appearances. The tortoise and the hare number, while adorable and set to extremely charming music, felt a bit out of place given the “Alice in Wonderland” premise. There was also a very ritualistic dance performed by a duchess, a chef and a pig that was a bit jarring when followed by a dance from the Mad Hatter.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, when all of these characters ended up being guests at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and the entire group performed as an ensemble in a completely different style than the opener. Though the characters still seemed a bit odd to me, the fusing of the all of the different stories into one routine was really well done.
My favorite routines of the evening were the aerial pieces. The second dance in the show was three bird-like characters utilizing aerial hoops and dancing to a Sia song, depicting depression and substance abuse. The cardboard clouds and feather boa costuming gave this very thematically dark piece a lighter touch which seemed very on point with the original telling of Alice in Wonderland that I remember. Towards the middle of the first act, the cheshire cat performed a solo routine on an aerial hoop to a remix of a Billie Eilish song. This was set to represent schizophrenia and I was just in awe of all of the different components of the routine.
I think what the show as a whole really captured was the Portico Dance Theatre vision statement: “In architecture, a Portico is an open entryway. Through contemporary dance, Portico Dance Theatre seeks to serve the same purpose: allowing ideas to exchange and percolate between artists, communities and disciplines.” With it’s extremely innovative routines and combination of dance styles, not to mention it’s very unique adaptation of classically known characters and stories, I was thoroughly impressed by the talent and creativity of the show.