PICTURED: MOMIX dancers inhabit a dreamlike world. Photo by Sharen Bradford

by Madeline Nathaus

The internationally renowned dance-illusionist group MOMIX is coming to the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks on April 29 with their newest surrealist show Alice.

“It’s a day for exploring one’s rabbit hole,” said Moses Pendleton, founder and artistic director of MOMIX. “I hope everybody is willing to take a little bit of a chance and make the plunge.”

The show begins at 8 p.m. with tickets starting at $35, which can be bought online at bapacthousandoaks.com or at the venue before 2 p.m.

“A MOMIX performance is always full of wonder and surprises,” said Colleen Debler, director of marketing at BAPAC. “Our goal is for the audience to sit back and enjoy the magic of dance.”

Performance promises both grace and laughter. Photo by Sharen Bradford

Influenced by Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, MOMIX’s Alice draws on the themes of the story rather than on telling the story itself. Audience members can expect to see dancers in white dresses, rabbit masks and rose costumes, but ultimately the experience is meant to evoke the surreal feeling of dreaming.

“Almost like a dream itself, [the performance] has no rhyme or reason,” said Pendleton. “It doesn’t matter which way you go if you don’t really care about going anywhere — this kind of nonsense reality, very much in the spirit of Lewis Carroll.”

MOMIX performances are known for manipulating images through light, costumes and props then moving them through time and space with choreography. In this show, the props and costumes are utilized in a way to generate illusions such as characters growing big and small. Simple props like latex fabric and exercise balls create fantastic creatures. Large roses made of fabric on pipes generate the appearance that they are floating away.

Alice is not Pendleton’s first experience with Carroll’s work as a guide. He choreographed a piece for his daughter’s ballerina recital when she was 5 or 6 years old called The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Some 25 years later, MOMIX was commissioned to do a show for the Pirelli Calendar’s Gala Dinner, where the theme of the event was Alice in Wonderland.

“My work has always been linked with surrealism,” said Pendleton. “That event got us making and thinking about how to do some sort of MOMIX material on Alice.”

Pendleton emphasized the importance of the visual medium in the book Alice in Wonderland and observed that it may not have made as much of an impact if it wasn’t for the illustrations included in the book. He also noted that his, and many others’, first experience with the story was seeing the psychedelic Disney movie adaptation. 

Pendleton said that imagery as a medium is important in the same way in dance. The audience’s experience of the show is mostly visual, another link between Carroll’s tale and MOMIX’s performance. He said he hopes this visual connection will summon a deeper mental connection.

“We don’t want to have an audience watch someone have a dream,” said Pendleton. “We want the audience to dream collectively themselves.”

Alice in Wonderland gets a surreal twist. Photo by Sharen Bradford

Pendleton has an extensive background in choreographing performances across film, television and theater. Some of his most notable work includes choreographing the 1980 Closing Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York, and the 2014 Opening Ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

He’s also worked on music videos for Prince, Julian Lennon and Cathy Dennis, among others. His 1982 production Moses Pendleton Presents Moses Pendleton for ABC ARTS cable has won more than 10 international awards including a Sundance award and the CINE Golden Eagle.

Pendleton started MOMIX over 40 years ago following the 1980 Lake Placid Olympic ceremonies. The group quickly grew to international notability for its inventive and unique styles.

“The studio is my rabbit hole,” Pendleton said in a statement. “Every afternoon I disappear into a world where shape and scale are constantly shifting and nothing, especially the human body, is what it seems.”

Pendleton said he hopes his newest show will engage the audience both audibly, with its 21 pieces of music made to sound like one score, and visually, with its entrancing and mysterious imagery.

“One of my favorite reactions is to hear the audience laughing. A lot of times it may be from surprise or the unexpected,” said Pendleton. “Sometimes it’s quite dark, so it’s also fun to see the collective audience straining to try to see what they think they should see, they’re not quite sure what they’re looking at.”

MOMIX brings Alice to the stage on Friday, April 29, at 8 p.m. at the Fred Kavli Theatre of the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. For tickets and more information, call 805-449-2787 or visit bapacthousandoaks.com.