May 6—It seems wonders will, indeed, never cease. And neither will live performances — even after a year crippled by the pandemic.
Fitting then, that Collide Theatrical Dance's new production is "Wonderland," an outdoor "steampunk dance theater" retelling of "Alice in Wonderland." Twin Cities performances open May 15 in back of the James J. Hill House on Summit Avenue in St. Paul and then move to Mill City Museum in Minneapolis.
Alice finds herself in a very different sort of Wonderland in the production. It takes place at a premier mental institution run by Dr. Andrew Knight. Knight has to treat a man who refers to himself as a "White Rabbit" who suffers from a severe anxiety disorder, a young woman named Alice with body dysmorphia, and a Queen figure suffering from narcissistic rage. The tea party becomes a therapy session as Alice interacts with the other residents and medication is doled out.
"By the end, the doctor realizes he has his own problems," says Regina Peluso, Collide's founder and artistic director. "Wonderland" hopes to increase awareness of the stigma surrounding mental health issues and treatment.
"It celebrates there's no such thing as 'normal' " Peluso says. "The doctor has his issues, too."
"Wonderland" was born out of the pandemic, she says. Mental health will be the next pandemic after everything people have gone through. "So many people have shame about mental health."
The "Wonderland" characters symbolize mental health issues. The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the caterpillar join Alice and the others. Peluso wrote the script and had mental health professionals read it to offer input.
The formidable J.J. Hill mansion will be a good backdrop for the 70-minute show, Peluso says. The back of the house has a wrap-around area with alcoves for people to sit up high. In the intimate setting, audiences will be limited to 60 per show, with two shows a day.
The dance company will bring its own flooring to the mansion and the museum. "It's kind of a pop-up, we have to take it in after each show," Peluso said.
Formed by Peluso eight years ago, Collide does not have regular company members, but hires dancers for each production. With many dancers out of work due to the pandemic, she says, she was able to hire some of the Twin Cities' best, contributing dance styles including tap, hip-hop, theatrical jazz and lyrical contemporary dance. Dancers are Rush Benson, Renee Guittar, Brian Bose, Miranda Shaughnessy, Heather Brockman, Chelsea Rose, Jarod Boltjes and Peluso.
"I'm grateful to keep these dancers employed and moving," she says.
While Peluso wrote the show, the dancers have collaborated on the production, with each creating a solo. Sound designer Andrew Hill uses electronic music based on pop tunes that fit the storyline. Twin Cities actor Ryan Colbert narrates the story.
Collide was among the first performing arts groups to take a show outdoors after the pandemic shutdown, with shows outside Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul and the Zephyr Theater in Stillwater in September. The audience sat through some rainy performances.
"The dancers were having a blast," Peluso says. "People with masks and hoods were sitting in the parking lot in the rain." ("Wonderland" performances will be canceled if there are weather advisories. It will also be available online.)
Peluso, who grew up in New Brighton, founded Collide (a collision of music, dance and theater) in 2013. It's "theatrical storytelling through dance," she said. Since its start, Collide has created 12 original full-length dance musicals on subjects ranging from the Los Angeles race riots of the 1940s ("Zoot Suit Riots"), classic Shakespearean drama ("Romeo & Juliet"), prostitution and sex trafficking ("Lot of Living to Do"), bullying, coming-of-age journeys ("Class of '85"), and female empowerment ("Le Petit Moulin"). The company has also done comic farces, true stories ("Dance 'Til You Drop") and modern takes on classical stories ("Dracula," "The Great Gatsby" and "The Picture of Dorian Gray").
Artistic director and choreographer, Peluso says she wants to make dance more accessible. She talks about a construction worker whose wife brought him to one of Collide's shows, though he was not a dance fan. He loved the music, she says, and became a friend of the company, offering to help build sets. He brought his whole crew to a show.
A "Children's Theatre kid," Peluso studied at Boston Conservatory and lived in New York and Los Angeles before returning to Minnesota. She has done choreography at History Theatre and for the Guthrie's "A Christmas Carol" the past couple of years.
This winter, Collide worked with Episcopal Homes to tell residents' stories through dance.
Collide has a studio space at 755 Prior Ave., St. Paul. With the help of funding from the Creative Enterprise Zone, a cabaret stage is planned for the space in the future.
— What: Collide Theatrical Dance Company's "Wonderland"
— When/Where: May 15-30 outside of the James J. Hill House in St. Paul; June 5-20 outside of the Mill City Museum in Minneapolis
— Tickets: Live price — $36 for adults, $32.50 for seniors, $22 for students; virtual tickets are $25 per household
— For tickets and more information: collidetheatrical.org or call 651-395-7903