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Where the Wild Things Are.

It's a fantastic journey families have shared for thirty years--Max's journey to Where the Wild Things Are. Now, in a collaboration between author-illustrator Maurice Sendak and choreographer Septime Webre, it's a journey that dancegoers can share for seasons to come.

Sendak's poignant tale was recreated with extravagant beauty and impeccable stagecraft in American Repertory Ballet's company premiere. (The ballet was first performed last September by the company that initiated the project, Ballet South of Savannah, Georgia.) From the elegant forest that rises up out of Max's bedroom to the marvelous sight of the monstrous Wild Things, this is an event of uncommon theatrical magic.

As the ballet opens, Stephen Shropshire, as the five-foot, ten-inch boy hero in a wolf suit, mischievously emerges from his homemade tent, and, in a magical mastery of scale, everything expands accordingly. The man-boy's movements mirror the awkward vernacular of a real six-year-old: at one moment he raises his arms like a threatening beast, then tucks his paws impatiently into his armpits.

Adapted previously as an opera by Sendak and composer Oliver Knussen Wild Things comes furnished with a ready-made score that helps make this ballet more than a matinee confection. It was performed here to a commercially released recording; it would be preferable to have ballet and music united in live performance.

Like the opera, the ballet expands on Sendak's original story, itself so spare and ultimately poetic. Among the dramatic additions are ten fat relatives who sweep in and all but devour Max. His mother appears twice: the angry mother (with vacuum cleaner) is danced by James Graber, while the loving mother of Max's reverie is danced by Suzanne Goldman. There are two sinuous sea creatures, performed by Mary Barton and Douglas Martin, that Max encounters each time he sails his little boat across time and space. And on the island (populated here by multiple Maxes), David PiHenger as The Lost Max weighs in with the work's most dynamic dancing.

Demanding pride of place are five massive Wild Things, brilliantly transmogrified from their storybook pages into ten-foot-tall, three-dimensional beings (inhabited by dancers) that are a joy to behold. This fabulous scale, however, also limits movement; rather than the complicated antics of the storybook Wild Things, Webre has to settle for tame parade movements.

This intriguing ballet, which is designed for neither children nor adults alone, might grow up a little, too. For example, five Lost Maxes dance as a corps, yet their unison set pieces present a rather sedate divertissement. Completing the all-Webre program, and elaborating on the artistic director's range of interests, were Fluctuating Hemlines, inspired by Camille Paglia's book, Sexual Personae, and Shoogie.
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Title Annotation:The State Theatre, New Brunswick, New Jersey
Author:Plett, Nicole
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Feb 1, 1997
Words:441
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