Penny Saunders’ Wonderland is a world premiere made-for-film piece that in the choreographer’s own words “pays homage to the marvel and magic of live theater”. She successfully achieves the sense of… wonder… with a montage of surrealistic scenes throughout the theatre employing viewpoints and locations not typically occupied by dancers. The cast of eight appear not only on the stage but in the orchestra pit and audience with visual transitions achieved by panning of the empty house. One movement is even filmed from the rafters showing three women dancing such that the stage floor is the support for their torsos. Saunders’ creative vision is at once beautiful, haunting, and mesmerizing no doubt in part due to incredible cinematography and videography teams.
The two middle works are excerpts from Waterbaby Bagatelles by Twyla Tharp and Susan Marshall’s Arms. The former is a quick five-minute romp of successive male solos being observed and admired by three bathing capped ladies. It is fun and entertaining although the excessive amount of different cuts needed in order to adhere to safety regulations is a little dizzying. Arms – as the title implies – features brachial choreography conveying the sometimes loving at times discordant emotions of a couple donned in dark pants and sleeveless light colored shirts. It is set to Luis Resto’s rapid electronic pulsing music (think “Stranger Things”) and the result of both the visual and audio repetitiveness causes this reviewer to simply tune out.
Regrettably, Jessica Lang’s world premiere of Ghost Variations does not draw me back in. Robert Schumann’s piano composition which inspires the title and storyline of the ballet, complemented by a couple of his wife’s works, produces a monotonous effect that not even the dynamic energy of the dancers nor the special lighting effects can break. The choreography, too, feels a bit mundane, but perhaps that is due to its musical pairing?