Milwaukee Ballet, "Peter Pan"
Sunday afternoon the 16th, we went to the Milwaukee Ballet for the
closing performance of "Peter Pan," an original ballet by Artistic
Director Michael Pink, with score by Philip Feeney. A first in
Milwaukee ballet history, and a good omen for the 40th anniversary
season, the production was entirely sold out for its four-performance
The ballet, in three acts, was perfectly charming. The narrative is
familiar, but has some interesting additions. The first act is set in
the Darling family nursery, and deals with Peter's eavesdropping upon
the family, especially Wendy's storytelling. In a nice touch, he loses
his shadow when Mrs. Darling, alarmed by the intruder, slams the window
on it. Preparing to go out for the evening, there is a very nice dance
between Mr. and Mrs. Darling (David Hovanhannisyan and Jennifer Grapes)
which expresses their love and devotion to one another. (As is
frequent with the Ballet's major productions, the show was double-cast,
with a Thursday-Saturday cast, and a Friday-Sunday cast. However,
Sunday's "Peter", Michael Linsmeyer, was taken ill, and was replaced by
the Thursday-Saturday "Peter", Marc Petrocci-so extra kudos to
Petrocci, who not only danced a very athletic role flawlessly having
just done it the evening before this matinee, but integrated his
performance seamlessly with the second set of principal dancers.)
The act opens with a parade of identical nannies, perambulators, and
neatly-dressed children all dancing in unison, until the entrance of the
Darling children. It is immediately apparent they are "unconventional".
Besides being accompanied only by the dog, "Nana" (Elizabeth Glander),
instead of being attired in a pink coat and neat hat, "Wendy" (Susan
Gartell) wears a dramatic magenta cloak and her hair loose. The action
moves inside with readying for bed as John (Petr Zahradnicek) plays a
hook-handed pirate fighting Michael (Nicole Teague) as a feather-wearing
Indian. When the pirate loses his sword, Wendy seizes it and joins in, a
nice bit of foreshadowing.
The loss of Peter's shadow brings on Tinkerbell (Luz San Miguel) who did
an excellent job of portraying the petulant and jealous fairy.
Tinkerbell's costume was particularly clever, since not only did it
contain its own light sources, but had the small wings built
symbolically as part of her headgear, instead of trying to work out some
form of larger back pieces that would both allow the wearer to dance and
not flop around.
Peter's pangs when Wendy sews his shadow back to the bottoms of his feet
were clever and funny and not overdone. They flying scenes, done by
wire in the classical Broadway fashion, were elegantly done and very
well coordinated, with other dancers working the wires. The act ends
with Pan and the Darling children flying off to Neverland, the nursery
set folding back to reveal a sea of cloud with the tower of Big Ben
seemingly drifting past below.
Act Two begins by showing us Hook (Hovanhannisyan, playing the double
role as is frequently done in play and pantomime versions) and his men
in fruitless pursuit of Tiger Lily (Tatiana Jouravel) and her band of
Amazonian "Indians". (Of course, these are fantasy "Indians", just as
the pirates are fantasy pirates, but I think the Indians' very brief
costumes the weakest point of what was otherwise a very elegantly
costumed show. It must be admitted that even these were very pretty and
decorative costumes. Instead of the classic Disney-esque scarlet coat,
Hook was given a very handsome buff and dark red ensemble. I was amused
to note that instead of the Jacobean wig, Hook also had a more flowing
tangly hairdo confined by a bandanna, ala "Jack Sparrow" (no dreadlocks
or dangly beads, though--).) In the course of the chase, Hook stumbles
across Peter Pan's hideout, and starts to lay plans.
In another part of the forest, Tinkerbell has arrived ahead of the
Darling children, and bullyrags the Lost Boys into shooting down the
"Wendy bird" with bow and arrow. Peter and the others arrive horrified
to find Wendy apparently dead. Grief turns to joy as it appears that
the arrow was blunted and she was only knocked out by the impact, then
to rage at Tinkerbell's treachery, whereupon the fairy is banished.
Peter's attempt to introduce Wendy into the Lost Boys' domestic
arrangements eventually founders, continuing the piece's theme of
jealousy and possessiveness as a problem, and Peter expels the lot of
them into the hands of the waiting Hook, who has by now succeeded in
capturing Tiger Lily and her band as well.
Alone, Peter falls asleep, allowing Hook to creep in and poison the
tonic Wendy left for him. Tinkerbell sees this, enters to sound the
alarm of Wendy and the boys' capture, and prevents Pan from taking the
poison by drinking it herself. As she lies dying, her light fades, and
Pan appeals to the audience for help. This was nicely done: since
ballet is essentially mime, Pan can't make the traditional "I do believe
in fairies" speech. Instead, children in the audience were given little
light wands and instructed to wave them only when given the proper
visual cue. This was quite magical as the seats lit up with waving
lights to save Tinkerbell.
The third act opens with the triumphant pirates "abusing" their
captives, which translates to making the Indian maidens be their
partners in a mildly "Apache" dance number (I was somewhat reminded of
"Pirates of Penzance" and the pirates avowed intention to "marry"
General Stanley's daughters--). After locking the Indians away in the
hold, Hook approaches Wendy in a seductive manner that is rather
alarming until we see that he also wants Wendy to read to him. This cozy
scene is broken up by the sound of the Crocodile nearby. (The actual
appearance of the Crocodile in Act 2 is a highlight also--.) Pulling
himself together, Hook decides it's time for the boys to walk the plank.
This is Pan's cue to enter, sneaking aboard and disguising himself under
Wendy's cloak while she frees the boys from their ropes and the Indians
from the hold. A general battle ensues, which ends up with Hook walking
the plank to the joy of all-even the pirates.
The ballet ends with Pan delivering the Darlings and the Lost Boys back
to the Darling home, where Mr. Darling is literally living in the
doghouse due to his grief. Pan surveys the reunion from his lofty perch
as the curtain comes down on a joyous dance.
All in all, this was a wonderful piece of entertainment. The integration
of balletic dancing with the wire flying and fight scenes is an
accomplishment, although there's probably not a lot that would be
considered deathless dancing. The score by Feeney is pleasant, though
forgettable, but serves its purpose admirably to set the emotional tone
and tempo of the action. The orchestra, conducted by Pasquale Laurino,
delivered the music on time, with vigor and fine sound. The modular
sets, especially Hook's pirate ship in Act 3, looked good, worked well,
and were cleverly employed for effects. The overall result was fun,
emotionally satisfying, and a highly enjoyable afternoon at the Ballet.