Peter and the Wolf
nytheatre.com review by Rohana Elias-Reyes
November 15, 2009
In 1936 a children's theater in Soviet Moscow commissioned composer Sergei Prokofiev to compose a short work to introduce young children to the instruments of the orchestra; he came up with the score and text for Peter and the Wolf. Seventy-plus years later, In the Wings, a company dedicated to producing family-friendly dance productions with live music, brings its version of Peter and the Wolf along with a new untitled prequel to the New Victory. The emphasis in this performance is on the visual, with music one of many design and storytelling elements, rather than the central focus.
Directed by Anne Greenen, the production is stunningly gorgeous. The set, lighting, and costume designers have created a luminous autumnal forest: aspen trunks shooting up, splashes of crimson leaves on the ground, and fanciful animal costumes. The choreography and ten dancers take full advantage of the physical elements available to them.
The prequel takes place the day before Prokofiev's tale. Slipping away from his friends while on a nature expedition in the forest, Peter meets the familiar bird, duck, and cat—and is scented by the hungry wolf. The traditional Peter and the Wolf follows the intermission as the second act. Composer Philip Feeney's lovely score for the new section focuses on mood, for example the marimba represents the children's safe place in the forest. Introduced this way, the musical instruments serve as accompaniment to the dancers rather than as characters in their own right. Part of the issue is that the orchestra is a small pit orchestra of 15. Skilled as these musicians are, they cannot convey the sonic weight and drama of a symphony orchestra.
That being said, In The Wings' production of Peter and the Wolf and the new prequel is a delight for the eyes, ears, and imagination. Didy Veldman's choreography is by turns lyrical, silly, and surprising, Brian Blessed as the narrator is a master storyteller, the live music is exciting (if not center stage), and the staging is gorgeous. For those youngsters who are always asking why, or tell me more, the prequel is a treat. Peter and the Wolf is recommended for all ages, but do consider your child's limitations. For those who can sit still for 90 minutes (including the intermission), and can stomach short but graphic descriptions of wolves' many teeth and bone crunching abilities, this version of Peter and the Wolf is a visually rich introduction to dance and color as character, light as atmosphere, and the evocative power of language and the human voice. More than that, it is a performance that engages and enchants children and adults alike.