'Peter Pan' production by Ballet Memphis soars - in more ways than one

By Jon W. SparksPosted April 12, 2014 at 6:14 p.m. 

The sumptuous production of “Peter Pan” by Ballet Memphis is a beautiful experience on many levels.The dance, of course, is the essence of it, and the company again shows its skill. Steven McMahon’s original choreography is smart, with a childlike exuberance that fits the story and a varied contemporary feel.

Several of the performers get to shine, particularly Kendall G. Britt Jr. in the title role. Britt’s playful grace is well matched to the notion of the boy who wants to never grow up. That, and an impish grin seals the deal.Wendy, the more or less responsible one, is performed by Julie Marie Niekrasz with superb finesse and vitality. Captain Hook and his pomposity get a nice comic turn from the very tall and very capable Brandon Ramey.

Tinker Bell’s snappish fairy is vividly portrayed by Stephanie Mei Hom with nimble energy and personality, clearly capturing the imaginations of the youngsters in the audience. This is Hom’s last main stage production with Ballet Memphis after 14 years, and she will be missed.

Had all this talent performed this “Peter Pan” in the street, it would certainly be remarkable. But this is Ballet Memphis’ most ambitious enterprise — a half-million-dollar production — and the presentation at the Orpheum Saturday afternoon was jaw-dropping.

Every staging of “Peter Pan” has to deal with the flight since Peter, Tinker Bell and the three Darling kids all get to soar. This production used a sophisticated automated aerial system from ZFX Flying Effects of Louisville, Ky. It can get all five dancers airborne — although Britt owns the sky — and have them rising, falling and flying from one end of the stage to the other with great precision.

The effect: These already agile dancers move with a liberating freedom above the floor, and it is both thrilling and terrific.Another superlative is the set created by noted Broadway designer Beowulf Boritt who employs the clever theme of circles, ovals and arcs. The opening scene in the children’s bedroom has a Victorian moon looking in through a huge oval window that splits apart so the youngsters can fly away.

Later scenes in Neverland are boldly designed and colorfully illuminated (lighting design is by Christopher S. Chambers), from lush forests to the pirate ship.So much else about this production is a bull’s-eye. The costumes by Anne Armit are inspired, the enormous crocodile comes close to stealing the show and the music, mostly by English composer Malcolm Arnold and some by Carl Nielsen and William Walton, is exactly right.

This is a “Peter Pan” that is fresh, vigorous, fun and a tribute to the creativity of Ballet Memphis.

Posted by Ballet Memphis at 11:37 AM
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