John Goding cavorts as Captain Hook in the Washington Ballet production of Peter Pan.
Photo by Tony Powell, courtesy The Washington Ballet
Reviewed by Paula Durbin
Over ninety years, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan has inspired staged interpretations too numerous to count. Why, then, would anyone want to do another take on this fantasy about never growing up? “My own Peter Pan syndrome is still a-kickin’,” Septime Webre explained when he introduced the world premiere of his full-length adaptation. Set to Carmen DeLeone’s score, which at times soars like a Broadway overture, and outfitted with scenery and costumes from the Cincinnati Ballet’s earlier production, Webre’s Peter Pan honors Washington’s commitment to an annual family production. This is no kiddie show, though: It has something for everyone who might attend a ballet performance.
As a brawny and technically confident Peter Pan, Jason Hartley burst through the open bedroom window, just like the female stars preceding him in the Broadway hit, and just like them, he didn’t seem like a prepubescent boy. Nor did Michele Jimenez, with her beautifully arched feet and breathtaking extensions, come across as a Wendy tottering on the brink of womanhood. But it didn’t matter: This was a fresh, contemporary take on Barrie’s tale, and once everyone was airborne, childhood seemed as much a psychological state as a physical one.
The familiar story unfolded as a series of tableaux animated by Lost Boys, Indians, Pirates, John Goding’s comic, almost benevolent Captain Hook, and Yvonne Cutaran’s fleeting glimpse of Tinkerbell. It was propelled by Disney-style bird’s-eye views of London and Never Never Land, all projected on a scrim between scenes; aerial stunts literally were raised to new heights, thanks to Foy’s evolving technical expertise. While even the MTV generation gasped at such acrobatics as Hartley’s effortless mid-air thrusts into back dives, the show-stealer was the ticking crocodile, a funky, overgrown club kid, who, flicking his green velvet tail like a flamenco diva, tangoed Hook off to his demise.
The whole company looked very good, especially when Webre exploited their aptitude for precise timing and stopping on a dime, often on one knee. Serious ballet fans were treated to a display of pure post-Balanchine splendor when the regal Erin Mahoney’s Princess Tiger Lily led eight women through a neoclassical sequence. Webre’s wittiest moment might be Tiger Lily’s rescue from the Pirates, by a Peter Pan dolled up in a Romantic ballet tutu, tossing off a series of classical ballet clichés.
If the kids and other uninitiated in the audience didn’t really get this inside joke, everyone enjoyed the spoof. Many were sufficiently impressed with the production to remain for Webre’s “Ballet Talk,” a ten-minute Q & A session that follows every performance. “Could I talk with Captain Hook alone?” asked a very young boy. “I’m sure that can be arranged,” Webre answered, caught a bit off guard, but obviously delighted at the magic he had worked.