By Lily Dolin, Staff Writer
Those familiar with Lewis Carrol’s classic “Alice in Wonderland” know it’s filled with strange words and nonsensical stories that make the reader question madness and reality. “Wonder/Through the Looking-Glass Houses,” a performance art adaptation of the beloved children’s tale, stays true to the unusual characteristics of the original story. The show, which is currently being performed at Dixon Place, takes audience members through a complex and sometimes off-putting world that turns ideas of normalcy on its head.
Transgender performance artist and storyteller Arrie Davidson, who is the creator and choreographer of the show, is the first to take the stage as the White Rabbit. Alone on the stage, she develops a intimate and playful relationship with the audience that persists throughout the show.
When Alice enters the stage, the audience begins its journey with her into Wonderland. The first scenes are a bit confusing. In the beginning, it is difficult to tell what the show is about. It is only with the song “Butterfly” that viewers begin to get a sense of the true meaning of the performance.
“Butterfly” features the Caterpillar, a famous character from the book, who writhes and rolls around on the floor while the Cheshire Puss reads a passage from the book. In the passage, Alice pressures the caterpillar to define itself, and say exactly who it is. “Tea Party,” a somewhat scary and alarming dance, highlights the madness and confinement of traditional nuclear households. Ideas of normalcy and societal pressures now begin to peek through in the dances.
“White Chapel Rabbit” is arguably the best portion of the show. In it, the White Rabbit delivers a moving monologue analogy about how young, pretty girls often get roles that she should get, and how it is difficult to be a “Jill” rabbit when traditional family members expect her to be a “Jack Rabbit.” The parallels to the difficulties and taboos surrounding transgender transitions become painfully clear.
Alice decides she wants to be Queen and performs“The Price Is Right to Be A Queen” as she sets out to achieve her goals. The White Rabbit, who is also a contestant on the show, is treated unfairly compared to the more traditionally feminine candidates. Alice later seeks the help of the White Rabbit, but ultimately abandons her when she realizes that the Rabbit is different and not normal enough.
Until this point, Alice had experimented and pushed the boundaries of her identity. But at the pivotal climax, she chooses normalcy over freedom with the White Rabbit. This is perhaps the most poignant part of the show. Alice had the chance to change and break free from the “madness” of everyday life; however, she does not deter from her goal of being Queen, and instead climbs over the bodies of other women to get there.
The dancing in the show is wonderful, and the shock value is just as great. However, it is the sad and painful story of transgender stigmatization and exclusion that makes this performance one to watch.
“Wonder/Through the Looking-Glass Houses” is being performed at Dixon Place at 161A Chrystie St. through Dec. 17.
Email Lily Dolin at firstname.lastname@example.org.