KPBS AIRDATE: March 24, 1999
A lot of people think about modern dance the same way they do about modern art: it doesn’t tell a story, and they don’t ‘get it.’ Gina Angelique tries to remedy that. The inventive local choreographer calls what she does ‘dance theater,’ and story is its strength – and also, on occasion, its weakness.
No one could ever deny Angelique’s exuberance, or intense political commitment, or humor combined with creativity. She and her company, Eveoke Dance Theatre, believe “the role of the arts is to place deep and often painful truths into the public’s consciousness…” These goals are faithfully, if unevenly, met in Angelique’s latest, elaborate undertaking, “Alice Lost Wonderland,” a decidedly, passionately feminist take on Lewis Carroll’s classic.
Once again, as with the ambitious dance-to-text-and-music, “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” Eveoke envelops you in a water-themed environment. On all the black pillars and walls are painted sketchy white, Rubenesque women, what T.S. Eliot called “sea-girls,” floating, upside-down and sideways. And dancers are in the aisles, in fabulous makeup, drawing us in.
There’s a dictionary in the program that defines the characters: Alice is ‘every person’; her center is her Inner Child. The cageheads, a foursome of agile dancers in wire head-gear, are ‘Alice unconsciously trapped in a cage,’ as if that weren’t self-evident. The jarring quartet of Toe Fairies, who look a lot like the Flying Monkeys of Oz, symbolize “Alice’s intuitive good and… bad.” Finally, there’s the Silver Squid, AKA the White Rabbit, which represents Deception. Wonderland, in case you couldn’t figure it out, is “freedom, empowerment,” and a whole bunch of other good things that ultimately lead to epiphany and catharsis.
So, here’s the problem. Angelique doesn’t seem to trust her audience. She is so imaginative, and so committed, and often so facetious, does she really have to beat us over the head with explanation – in her written exposition and in her dance? Do the wonderfully whimsical waltzing breasts really need to be sucked on? Do tampons have to be tossed into the audience during the menstrual moment in this coming-of-age story? Does everything have to be spelled out and demonstrated?
When Angelique isn’t quite so literal and on-the-nose, her work is a lot more enjoyable. And there really is a great deal to like here. The journey begins at Alice’s somewhat difficult birth, and moves through nursing, her aggressive boy-side, her adolescence, her first date (with Dick Cagehead and his 20-foot, serpentine, strangulating member, which is a pretty hilarious scene), her learning to drive, and to shop (a very funny bit) and finally, to break free of her many cages and entrapments. It’s a moving and provocative tale of female evolution and liberation. The recorded music, by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, is jazzy to a feverish pitch in the first act, and more subdued and agreeable in the second.
Angelique’s choreography continues to evolve in delightful ways. Her dancers are athletic and energetic. Dana Perri is particularly skillful as the Silver Squid, and young Elizabeth Marks does a marvelous turn in a martial arts solo with spear. And the costume designs, also by Angelique, are clever and playful, and her use of props is ingenious.
There is a palpable energy and infectious joy to everything Gina Angelique does; despite some heavy-handed moments, she has a lot to say about the battles women must fight to stay alive and to grow. Her work draws the audience in, makes them laugh and makes them think.
©1999 Patté Productions Inc.