Redefining Neverland

Milwaukee Ballet’s “Peter Pan” soars

Exquisite staging and jaw-dropping choreography make for a stunning fantasy.

By - May 12th, 2012 11:29 am

Marc Petrocci flying high as Peter Pan. Milwaukee Ballet photo.

Kids are pretty overwhelmed by their entertainment choices these days. When they are inundated with visions of masked marauders, explosions and tiny talking animals, the ballet can be a hard sell—even for Samadhi.  So, how do you convince a five year old that the ballet is worth the endeavor? By telling him Michael Pink’s Peter Pan features a superhero who flies, fights pirates and refuses to grow up.

It’s not much of a stretch to paint J. M. Barrie’s Peter as one of the first superheroes. He fits the archetype: shrouded beginnings as an orphan, the perfect arch-nemesis and the ever-present ability to save beautiful girls from certain doom. Not to mention that adorable pan flute, iconic cap, and those infamous tights…

Milwaukee Ballet’s Peter Pan was a smash hit performed with passion and precision. Pink’s interpretation took this well-loved children’s story to new heights (literally and figuratively) with a production value unlike anything I’ve seen. Besides the obvious dedication of the principal dancers, the work of the crew and orchestra was breathtaking.  We watched with mouths agape as the story unfolded on that vast stage one note, one step and one dream at a time.

Peter Pan (danced by Marc Petrocci, for whom the part was especially crafted) was the perfect mix of willful defiance and impishly good looks, but I think the stage was stolen by Courtney Kramer’s Tiger Lily. She and the other Native dancers were enchanting—I could not take my eyes off them whenever they took the stage. Solemn and beautiful, they moved as one in respectful homage to Native American fancy shawl dancers.  I especially loved the sparkling bands around the dancers’ legs. Reminiscent of the beadwork of native tribes, the bands emphasized the strength and grace possessed by trained dancers. The only improvement I could think of would be the inclusion of tiny bells, though I imagine that would be a choreographer’s worst nightmare.

Another gem of the production was a trick only a parent could appreciate: an interactive element. As the audience entered the theater, we were each given a fiber optic flashlight (a Fabulous Fairy Fixer) and a special instruction card. At the agreed-upon time, we lit our Fairy Fixers and waved them frantically, saving the beautiful Tinkerbell from a horrific end.

The orchestra was flawless in the way that only an accompanying group of musicians can be –playing every note in perfect unison so as not to take away from the action onstage. I took Samadhi down to see the pit; he couldn’t believe all that music was coming from a hole that no one could see! He was especially taken by the harpist, a love I would like to think will carry him forward in his appreciation for orchestral music.

Saving the best for last, I can’t ignore the ingenuity that went into the staging of Peter Pan. The stage elements were an actually part of the show—the pirate ship especially, which transformed several times to create completely different perspectives, the most majestic being the sight of the ship in total. Unfortunately, this moment was so fleeting, I don’t think the audience saw enough of it to really appreciate its presence and design. I suppose, though, if my biggest complaint was being too distracted by the story to see the set, it went off without a hitch.

As the lights dimmed for the last time, little girls in tutus pretended to be Tinkerbell, boys fenced with their Fairy Fixers and we stumbled sleepily out to catch a cab. We left wondering where our own dreams might take us, drifting off to our own private Neverlands.

The Milwaukee Ballet’s production of Peter Pan runs through Sunday. Visit the Ballet’s website for more details.

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