You entered through a grassy rabbit hole into the evocative Wonderland inside the Marigny Opera House. The folding chairs on either side of the nave of this deconsecrated church soon filled. On the floor between the rows of chairs were 10 sleepers (all New Orleans Center for Creative Arts dance students) under blankets. Off to one side, Shane Courville played original music on a baby grand piano.
After going down a rabbit hole, you would expect some of Lewis Carroll's famous nonsense. In this case, it was a phantasmagoric avant-garde ballet based on the 1865 children's classic.
Chard Gonzalez Dance Theatre took a humorous and ramshackle approach to the piece it created and performed. Once things got underway, the piano dropped out and the music was a recorded version of David del Tredici's An Alice Symphony. There was considerable percussion, along with woodwinds, horns and soprano voices in a sort of wordless melisma. The dancing tended to go counter to the rhythms, rather than in sync.
The work featured many of the Wonderland characters but hardly attempted to construct a narrative. The young sleepers served as a corps de ballet and tied things together by their presence, eventually metamorphosing into butterflies and playing cards. Cards are, after all, crucial in Wonderland, which is ruled by the Queen of Hearts (Chard Gonzalez), King of Hearts (Paul Aguiar) and the Jack of Hearts (William Byram). There was considerable knockabout amid the royals, and the ineffectual king usually got the worst of it. The White Rabbit (Kabrena Robinson) helped the episodes segue from one to another.
Among the popular characters, we got to see the Mad Hatter (Christopher Forsyth) and his tea party guests, the March Hare (Madison Alford) and the Dormouse (Reese Johanson). A woman from the audience was pressed into service as a guest, and audience members were occasionally used as stooges. In the flamingo/croquet match, flimsy plastic flamingo lawn ornaments served as mallets, occasionally coming apart and sending parts skittering into the crowd. Caterpillar (Mary Carol Chenet) and Cheshire Cat (Meliah Henry) rounded out the cast.
This entertaining show was not about polish so much as inventiveness. Working without much in the way of equipment, Justin Bourgeois managed to create evocative lighting. A tip of the hat goes to Chard Gonzalez Dance Theatre and the Marigny Opera House, the font of a Bywater bohemian renaissance. — DALT WONK