Peter Pan-demonium broke out at the Wortham Theatre tonight as the Houston Ballet twirled and swirled amidst special effects of all kinds. This is the second time Peter Pan - choreographed by Trey McIntyre - has been performed in Houston; it premiered two years ago. Repeating a program in two years is rather a short interlude considering all the fine ballets that we regulars would love to see performed, but looking at the full house, consisting of many families (even on a Saturday night) and seeing that they had to run an extra Saturday matinee tells the reason why.
Three weeks ago, when the Houston Ballet (www.houstonballet.org) presented three smaller works with little child appeal, the audience just didn't show up in strong numbers. The programs were terrific, especially Lila York's The Celts, which I wrote about at the time. (Look in the archives for September 11.) But the organization needs box office and the story ballets that draw families mean box office. As long as that makes it possible for the Ballet to present serious, adult, or cutting edge work other times, I don't mind. If there is too much story-time ballet in one season, I get frustrated.
I have been attending the ballet for more than ten years. Well, let's count. I guess I could accurately say 13 years. Last year I did not have a season subscription and I missed it terribly. The reason I didn't is that my daughter Alix is my ballet partner and her job hours interfered. This started the previous year and I always had to find people to go to the ballet with me. That shouldn't be too hard: a free ticket and good company, too! But it got to be a drag always calling around looking for someone to attend with me and it seemed like an expensive indulgence to pay for a friend's ticket every time. So I took a pass last year and only bought tickets for programs I couldn't miss. Fortunately, they had several repeats that I didn't miss not seeing and I did get to see the new work.
I am so glad that Alix's new job allows her to have weekend's off again. I really like to spend time with her and the ballet is a shared joy for us. Tonight we took Victoria along as a special treat . See, even I am susceptible to family programming! Victoria is all jazzed about Peter Pan because one of her teen-aged heart throbs appeared in the recent movie remake. I think she was expecting him to dance out on stage tonight! She seemed disappointed when we arrived and she saw the program. Who was that old guy dancing Peter Pan? (Remember, she's 13. Old is anything over 18.) But once the lights went down, she was hooked. (Oh, did I say that? Sorry, sometimes I just can't help myself.)
The special effects were FX to the max. People flew. Stars shone all over the theater. Ships sailed. Movies rolled. Crocodiles lurked in the depths. And there were fish and mermaids! I liked the bogeymen especially well - they were creepy - and the shadow play effects. Tinkerbell's glowing appearance and then her shadow dance were very effective, as were the explosions during the third act.
The parents provided a very touching element in the performance. (I am not biased by the fact that Lauren Anderson - my very favorite ballerina - danced the Mother. She also danced the kidnapped mermaid, by the way.) The parents were portrayed in a very stiff and rigid way, wearing partial masks that kept their demeanor obscured. You could only interpret their emotions from their movements, which were very formal and very stilted. This meshed perfectly with the Victorian sentiments of the time, when parents were distant and formal with their children. I remember my own mother, whose Grandmother was a bonafide Victorian, telling me she was raised to believe that after a child was a toddler, it was not appropriate to hold them on your lap anymore.
Back to the dance. That the parents had formal and stilted choreography did not in any way mean that it was not gracefully and masterfully danced. The performers created just the atmosphere they were supposed to of loving, but remote, parents who learn, too late, how much they really love their children. And the joy they express on the children's return is much less reserved and more open, demonstrating the changes that the temporary loss of the children has caused. There were two family portraits, one in the first act and one in the third act, with the five family members. In the first act, everyone is standing and people are not really touching each other or interacting. In the third act, the mother is sitting, the children cluster around her, the father has his hand on someone's shoulder. It's just a very different feeling. Which, I think, is what the choreographer intended.
Wendy also has a family portrait in the third act - with her future husband and child. That moment touched me quite a bit, admittedly maybe in a knee-jerk way, but I got teary. Just a nicely done performance.
Couple of side notes. One: J. M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan. He was an Englishman from the late 19th - early 20th century (1860-1937). He also wrote the play The Admirable Crighton, among many other things, and I wrote the book for an adaptation of Crighton as part of a musical theater collaboration class two years ago. Had a great deal of fun with it although we never got to the point of actually taking it on the road. We did do a local performance at the University of Houston, though.
Side note two: At the beginning of the ballet, the Darlings have 4 children, including baby Peter. He falls out of his crib and is accidentally swept away with the garbage, later to appear as Peter Pan. It is an odd storyline, don't you think? I think so and I have tried to think of reasons for it. So here are my top three. 1) It's just a quirky story that adds to the fun. 2) It's a reflection (criticism) of Victorianism in that parents could be so distant from their children that they wouldn't notice one gone missing. 3) It's a reflection of the high infant mortality rate of the times and Peter represents the "lost" child in an all too sad way.
So there you have. Peter Pan-demonium and my opinion of it all.