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REVIEW: Exciting Wonderland Returns to the Asylum (Artistry)

A promotional photo of the original 2021 production of Wonderland by Collide Theatrical Dance Company. Pictured: Miranda Shaughnessey, Patrick Jeffrey, Jarod Botljes, and Rush Benson from the 2021 cast. Photo by Lucas Wells.

Wonderland is back. The thrilling contemporary dance show by Collide Theatrical Dance Company – originally premiered as an outdoor production at the James. J. Hill House in St. Paul – is now playing in Bloomington at the Artistry Black Box Theater.

For those unfamiliar with the conceit, Wonderland transplants the imagery and characters of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland into a wordless but soul-filled exploration of the world of mental health and its treatment. The brainchild of company founder, director, and lead choreographer Regina Peluso, this indoor version is sometimes light-hearted, sometimes heart-touching as a metaphor for modern mental health discontents. The result is deeply engaging, even riveting, in spite of the more limited indoor space, special effects, and some casting updates, but with some gains in indoor creature comforts that may be especially helpful to older audiences.

Once the show begins, the iconic characters from Carroll’s tales are easy to recognize as the metaphoric denizens of “down the rabbit hole”, in a “world-famous asylum”. They are embodied by a cast of extremely entertaining, charismatic, and disciplined dancers, of whom Renee Guittar (as The Caterpillar) and Heather Brockman (as The Red Queen) are particular standouts. The dancers perform the inventive choreography on a chessboard dance floor, with well-chosen lighting effects and pre-recorded music.

The soundtrack of 25 musical numbers is often heavily inflected with disco-style bass beats, driving the energetic ensemble and solo dance numbers, some created by members of the ensemble. This expressive language is complemented by excellent voiceovers by Ryan Colbert (an accomplished local actor), discussing of au courant neuroses and mental illness, with their diagnoses and treatments portrayed satirically but empathetically.

Whether outdoors or indoors, Wonderland is a wonderfully entertaining and thoughtful production, not to be missed.

Wonderland plays through October 2 at the Bloomington Center for the Arts’ Artistry Black Box Theater in Bloomington, MN.