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NBT’s playful ‘Peter Pan’ sets hearts aflutter at the Smith Center

Updated: Oct 13, 2020

★★★★★ - Irresistible

“Second to the right, and then straight on till morning.” Every child knows (though most grown-ups have forgotten) that Neverland is a wondrous place that resides in the the heart and mind. Nevada Ballet Theatre’s charming storybook presentation of choreographer Jorden Morris’ adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s classic tale “Peter Pan” proved the perfect family treat on Mother’s Day weekend. For Barrie’s story isn’t just about feisty fairies, crusty pirates, and a little boy who refuses to grow up, but is also about the yearning for a mother’s love.

Growing up can feel like exuberance sprinkled with melancholy for children and parents alike. It’s a fleeting quality integral to Barrie’s work that Morris admirably captures, choreographed mostly to the music of Barrie’s contemporary Sir Edward Elgar, among others. He stays with the story (with a few variations) and takes the time to develop the loving relationship of the Darling family in the first act nursery scenes with funny horseplay and pretty duets, though this section feels a bit long. But once Peter and Tinkerbell arrive and Wendy, Michael, and John fly off with them to Neverland (literally and fantastically, courtesy of Flying By Foy), the show really gets its wings.

Morris, who worked with the company on the production with the help of rehearsal assistants Caitlin Peabody and Tara Foy, uses grand gestures and pantomime to propel the narrative forward that are more fresh and natural in style than in classic story ballets. The language is animated without being cartoonish, and the dancers really get to show off their acting chops. We can see Barrie’s familiar words in their movements.

Elgar’s beautiful work “Dream Children” sets a wistful tone for the nursery scene where Peter, danced by Jun Tanabe, and Wendy, danced by Betsy Lucas, meet. After Peter’s rollicking chase with his life-sized Shadow (David Hochberg), Wendy sews it back on his feet and an attraction ignites between the two during a shy duet of discovery. Peter and Wendy seem a bit more grown-up than usual here and Tanabe and Lucas share a palpable chemistry in what feels like a blossoming romance.

Tanabe’s Peter is a powerful leader, and he wows with his athletic multiple tours a la second, high leaps and beats, and acrobatics in the air, yet also has a gentle gracefulness. And he makes it all look easy while wearing a flying harness, as does Lucas who conveys Wendy’s dual qualities of daintiness mixed with strong-willed strength, giving the feel of a spirited young girl awakening into adolescence with her flowing arabesques and cheerful jetés.

The charismatic Emma McGirr brings to life the spunky Tinkerbell with her expressive features and dramatic emotions. She humorously pumps her fists in fits of fury, pas de chats and fouettés crisply like a jubilant fairy would, and collapses into side splits with arms crossed and feet flexed like the petulant creature she is. After Tinkerbell drinks poison to save Peter they perform a beautiful dying pas de deux, but the colorful Neverland Fairies as a corps de ballet dance and sprinkle pixie dust to magically revive her (though there’s an awkward transition when McGirr leaves the stage to have her harness put on).

Benjamin Tucker and Alissa Dale as Mr. and Mrs. Darling exude fond feeling in their soft duets together in the nursery, with Tucker stuffy yet silly and Dale full of motherly love. The elegant Dale is particularly moving in a scene where she waits mournfully for her vanished children to return. And in the Neverland Forest she holds court as Princess Tiger Lily, sharing a sensuous, stylized pas de deux with an anthropomorphized Crocodile, danced by Steven Goforth wearing an avant-garde costume that gives an earthy Art-Deco look.

Tucker does double duty with a very funny and cowardly portrayal of the dastardly Captain Hook, often sword fighting with Tanabe as Peter, who always outwits him by leaping out of his reach. There’s also an intricate chase/duet between Tucker and Goforth as nemesis Croc that simulates a scuffle in the watery lagoon, and amusing antics with his bumbling sidekick Smee, danced by a goofy Enrico DeMarco.

The choreography is rooted in classical ballet, with traditional-style group numbers involving the Lost Boys and Pirate Clans that include acrobatic, dueling duets and what looks like improvised battles. The entire cast crafts a wonderful ensemble. Standouts include Stephan Azulay, Sergio Alvarez, David Hochberg, Krista Baker, and Caroline MacDonald. Kudos to Isabella Kowalski as Michael, Emmie Strickland as John, Christina Ghiardi as maid Liza, and Charis Dexter as fluffy dog-nursemaid Nana.

The gorgeous sets of the Edwardian nursery with picture window and starry skies, the Maxfield Parrish inspired Neverland forest/waterfall, and the Jolly Rancher were designed by Don Rutledge and Andrew Beck; Anne Armit created the striking costumes with an Art Nouveau flair; and Robert Hand assisted by Peter Jakubowski designed the evocative, dreamy lights.

NBT’s “Peter Pan” is an enchanting flight for kids and grown-ups alike.

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