Roll over, Nutcracker, and make way for that feral boy with the aerial chops. Peter Pan has found his Neverland at the Academy of Music, where Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker has for so long reigned as the prime ballet offering for both adults and children.
Thanks to the spirited Pennsylvania Ballet premiere of this 2002 work by Trey McIntyre, Philadelphians now have the makings of a new children's classic that can become a recurring treat in the repertory.
In his first full ballet, McIntyre eschews the Disneyfied approaches to Peter Pan by returning to the haunting and darker story of the original J.M. Barrie story. More recent theater productions of Peter Pan, such as the 2010 version by the National Theater of Scotland, also re-discover the disturbing story of an eternally youthful boy relating to fantastical and real worlds.
You won't see much innovative choreographic invention in this work, but you will see totally committed dancers embodying a compelling story. McIntyre has mined the original tale to illustrate how the Lost Boys gather in Neverland. Early in the first act we see three outsized nannies walking three similarly outsized perambulators; when one overactive "child" rolls out of one, he's swept with a broom offstage and, as the story goes, when unclaimed is sent away to Neverland.
Sniffing the bedclothes
Peter was well portrayed by Amir Yogev at a Sunday matinee performance, exhibiting his feral side as he first sniffed all the bed clothing in Wendy's bedroom after his arrival flight. Yogev's physical dynamism and control of the space manifests the Pan character's youthful energy, but the choreographer may have missed some of the poignancies in the boy's outsider status and in his relations with those who, like Wendy, expect him to grow up.
Wendy, danced by Lauren Fadeley, perfectly realized the child and woman aspects of this role. Her concluding solo as Peter flew away was memorably wistful.
Zachary Hench made a lasting impression on my four-year-old date, Amelia, who, like her grandfather, admired his ability to combine comical menace within the character. Of the ensemble dances, the animated dance of the Red Skins (a name well worth changing for these times) stood out for its visceral earthiness, appropriate to a dance for a Rite of Spring.
Peter Pan also appeared to be a flying debut for the Pennsylvania Ballet, which employed aerial dance as an integral element to this story. Yogev seemed as comfortable in the air as on the ground, and when he crossed his arms across his chest with his legs in a diamond shape, his revolving upward ascent had the effect of a lunar rocket blastoff.
The first aerial ascent of Wendy and her siblings was magically commenced as Peter gave a light lift to Wendy's extended foot. I wished for more extended and choreographed aerial dance, but there was enough here to elicit Amelia's response: "I wish I could fly." (Someday I'll tell her about the Amelia who did fly.)
Thomas Boyd's scenic design ably created the illusionist spaces of Neverland's flowered and forested landscape, the intimidating pirate ship interior, and the Darling bedroom full of watchful nannies and visiting fairies. Jeanne Button met the challenge of widely divergent, yet singular, costume designs for an extraordinary cast of characters. The Elgar music, collaged from various works by arranger Niel DePonte, sufficed to provide the range of sound to accompany this work.
A 15-foot-long crocodile made two slithering solos, albeit without a cowering Captain Hook or the sound of a ticking clock. Perhaps a future production can offer up some ominous ticks from the beast. But even without them, this Peter Pan has the makings of a classic that will enthrall and delight those of all ages.
Perhaps this success might provide a catalyst for the gleaning of other mythic children's stories from the rich literature out there, giving the Nutcracker some competition while also giving the public new access into all those children's stories whose appeal transcends age boundaries.♦
To read another review by Janet Anderson, click here.