@lice in www.onderland
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
August 16, 2008
"Cyberspace has become everyone's Wonderland," says the tagline for the multimedia dance adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic @lice in www.onderland (the cleverest title I've seen lately, and the rest of the piece delightfully lives up to it) and so Alice's journey down the rabbit hole here becomes a journey into a strange yet strangely familiar digital landscape, where an eVite to the Mad Hatter's Tea Party beckons, the White Rabbit wears roller skates, and pop-up advertisement windows bring icons of her sojourn in Wonderland—flamingos, card suits, a cake reading "eat me." Access to Wonderland is controlled by a password that Alice must search for, and exit from it comes by virtue of another series of ruefully familiar computer commands.
I don't know if someone unfamiliar with the original Alice in Wonderland would appreciate how truly clever some of the translations from Victorian literature to both movement (the dormouse at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, constantly nodding off in the midst of a balletic duet) and cyberspace (the Queen of Hearts's wrong-colored roses, here transfigured back and forth from red to white via Photoshop) are—but I don't know if it matters, either; even without that frame of reference, the visual inventiveness and the variety and polish of the dancing would be thoroughly enjoyable.
The show's scenes pick up different episodes from the book, tracking Alice's trip through virtual reality with video segments and dance numbers in an array of idioms and styles (choreographed by Celeste Ballard, Maggie Burrows, and Allegra Long), ranging from the clean, elegant lines of balletic modern dance (Alice crying herself a river) to a sharper and more angular modern style (the playing-card soldiers) to tap (the Cheshire Cat, a tap-dancer in the dark with a sparkling lit-up grin) to buoyant hip-hop (Tweedledee and Tweedledum, figured here in one of my favorite sequences as graffiti taggers with bright orange backpacks and propeller beanies). Some of the strongest dancing comes in the caucus race segment—the duck, dodo, eaglet, and so forth from the book are here figured in white-and-gold costumes with vaguely sinister masks—but memorable overall is the sheer range of dance packed into an hour-long piece and all executed crisply by a company of twelve dancers.
Where Carroll's Alice is constantly pressed to win races and games, forced to compete to advance in her journey, this Alice is engaged more on a journey of self-discovery—an investigation that will allow her to enter new information into the online profile we see a few times throughout the show, explicitly underscored with questions of identity. It's an interesting choice, once that adds an undercurrent both sinister and exciting to her different encounters. But while Alice goes through the scenes faintly mimicking the movement vocabularies she sees—the seductive gestures of the Flowerz (cribbed from Alice's Adventures through the Looking-Glass), a group of online nymphets performing for a webcam; Tweedledum and Tweedledee's brash posing—she never seems to feel strongly connected to anything. Escape from Wonderland proves to be in her control, in the end, but throughout her stay she seems buffeted by the forces around her, and never seems to make the kind of discovery, or participate in the action, in the way I might have liked. I wanted her to be a little more engaged in her environment, to make some choices rather than being equally affected by each thing or person or possible identity she crosses paths with. The friend with me put it a little differently: she wanted Alice to dance.