Kayla Garrett’s Peter Pan: The Eyes Have It!
by Lee Greene
I must confess that until a week ago, I did not know that Southern Oregon had a ballet company. Did you? Oh, I had some vague awareness that at Christmas time there were some productions of the Nutcracker around here, as is true almost everywhere. But an actual ballet company? Here? I had no idea, and my cultural life was acutely poorer for that oversight, as I discovered to my great delight and complete enjoyment during my attendance at the June 15, 2017 performance of Kayla Garrett’s original production of the ballet, Peter Pan, by Miss Diana’s School of Ballet at Sjolund Auditorium of North Medford High School.
I am loathe to go into great detail about the J. M. Barrie story, Peter and Wendy, from which the production was adapted. If you don’t know the story of Peter Pan, the mischievous yet innocent little boy who can fly, and has many adventures on the island of Neverland with the children of the Darling family, well then I’m not sure what to say to you. First published in 1904 as a play, then as a novel in 1911, it is one of the most popular, beloved, and best selling stories of all time. It has been adapted as a pantomime, stage musical, television special, and multiple film versions, including a 1924 silent film, a 1953 Disney animated full length feature and a 2003 live action production. [Wikipedia, Peter and Wendy, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_and_Wendy] It has also been adapted more than once as a ballet, including the completely original and darling (to borrow a word) production created by Kayla Garett which I was so fortunate to attend a performance of.
If you don’t know the story, then please go get the book and start reading, or rent one of the film versions. The story is both complete and ecstatic escapism and the ultimate expression of the wonderment of childhood, with unbridled youthful imagination unencumbered by the constraints of adult reality, pressures and obligations. Just pure childhood joy.
In a nutshell, Peter is an eternally youthful child who makes nighttime visits to the Darling household in London, to listen through the open window to the bedtime stories read by Mrs. Darling. One night Peter is spotted and, while trying to escape, he loses his shadow. On returning to claim it, Peter wakes Mrs. Darling’s eldest daughter, Wendy Darling. Wendy succeeds in re-attaching his shadow to him, and Peter learns that she knows lots of bedtime stories. He invites her to Neverland to be a mother to his gang, the Lost Boys, children who were lost (duh!). Wendy agrees, and her brothers John and Michael go along. Peter can fly and teaches the Darlings how, and they all make a magical flight to Peter’s home in Neverland which is inhabited by mermaids, fairies, Native Americans and pirates. There the Darling children have many adventures with Peter, his fairy, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, the pirates and their leader, Captain Hook. The adventures are creative, inspirational, fantastic, and unfettered by the laws of physics, the constrictions of reality, or any disheartening imperative of truth. It’s thorough fun as seen through the imaginative eyes of a child’s mind.
What Kayla Garrett has done with the story in this adaptation is beyond words. Literally! This production presents the Peter Pan story, extremely effectively, comprehensively, and entirely understandably, without using a single spoken word. When I look at all the words I’m expending here in trying to describe this production, and contemplate how well she managed to tell the entire Peter Pan story without using a single word, I am left in awe. But not completely surprised, as I have previously seen (and applauded) Ms. Garrett’s work in other stage productions, including the choreography in Camelot Theatre’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels:
“[T]he audience . . . are treated to high velocity eye candy: the well-orchestrated, non-stop, energetic movement of the oft-changing bold-costumed ensemble cast. . . . That wonderful and extensive choreography . . . was the outstanding work of choreographer Kayla Garrett.”
[Performing Arts Reviews, Camelot Theatre’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, http://bit.ly/2bQXypz]
And again in Camelot Theatre’s Ghost:
“The show includes a veritable trove of well-done ensemble song and dance numbers. Kudos to choreographer, Kayla Garrett, for organizing the steps and whipping the ensemble dancers into pleasing symmetry and synchronicity.”
[Performing Arts Reviews, Camelot Theatre’s Ghost, The Musical, http://bit.ly/2mxnoG7]
The story is acted out entirely through dance, gestures, physical interactions between the performers, staging, sets and the musical score. I’m not sure where Ms. Garrett obtained the musical recording used in the production, but the music was well done, and well presented over the sound system in the Sjolund Auditorium. The sets used in the show were terrific. I have seen countless plays and productions of many kinds in the Sjolund Auditorium but the sets for this show were hands down the best I’ve ever seen on that stage – from the Darling family bedroom to the Neverland forest to Captain Hook’s ship, the Jolley Roger, they are all extremely well envisioned and effective in placing the characters and viewers in the locales of the Barrie story adventures. The costumes were just wonderful. Colorful, whimsical, widely different and appropriate to their respective characters, providing a big assist in helping the viewers’ imagination to envision the Barrie characters. But the good music, great sets and costumes are the least of the production’s assets. The choreography was extraordinary – extremely well done, very effective, and a complete joy to see – absolute eye candy.
Montage of photos from Miss Diana’s School of Ballet’s June 15, 2017 performance of
Kayla Garrett’s production of Peter Pan at Sjolund Auditorium, North Medford High School, Medford, OR (adapted from the work of J. M. Barrie)
The capstone taking this production to near perfection was the cast. Here again what Ms. Garrett has done is extraordinary; she has assembled a cast of assorted performers spanning an extensive range of ages, skills, and experience like none other that I can recall. All told, at least 128 performers danced across the stage during the two hour performance. Fourteen extraordinarily talented dancers were well utilized in principal roles, and another 114 dancers, from the very smallest, youngest, freshest naifs, to accomplished confident adolescents and beyond, were used to portray puppies, stars (the kind that shine in the sky at night!), fairies, pixies, mermaids, flamingos “Never birds”, jungle beasts, pirates, Lost Boys, mermaids, rainbow fish and Indian braves. Ms. Garretts’s work with these supporting characters is just short of unimaginable. Besides the extensive amount of choreography required to effectively tell the story through this massive number of performers on stage and give every one of them the steps necessary for their respective roles, she managed to teach them all to execute that choreography well – there may have been Lost Boys on stage when the Barrie story called for that element, but there weren’t any lost dancers. With well over 100 dancers, no one seemed confused, out of sync or place, or uncomfortable on the stage. The looks on the faces of the youngest children dancing – broads smiles and expressions of sheer exultation, were in and of themselves an uplifting joy to watch.
And the work of the principal dancers was something incredible to behold. Ms. Garrett herself occupied the lead role of Peter Pan – her dancing was athletic, graceful, impressive and relentless (one can’t help but wonder where she could muster the energy to perform such extensive, challenging, physically demanding, and visually beautiful dancing for most of the two hours of this production – but she did and it never flagged). Many of the principal dancers surrounding Mr. Garrett’s Peter Pan were also athletic, graceful and a pleasure to watch. A particular favorite of mine was Ryleigh Buchanan in the role of Captain Hook, who not only executed the dance steps with skill and grace, but seemed to relish the role, and enthusiastically embody the character with gestures, posturing and movement bringing Captain Hook to energetic, enthusiastic life. Sierra-Nicol Grunwald did masterful work portraying Peter’s fairy, Tinkerbell, through dance. Kailee Bojarski as The Crocodile – Captain Hook’s ever pursuing arch nemesis, was a hoot, aided by an exquisite costume. Hally Schmidt, as Nana, the Darling family’s dog, was similarly aided by a terrific costume and used it to good advantage. Kendall Weldon as Wendy Darling, Lillian Waters as John Darling, and Sarah Gaut as Michael Darling all had extensive dance work and all acquitted their steps with aplomb. Kate Vistaunet had an impressive, but brief, turn as Peter’s separated shadow. Charlene Harwood provided a perfect Mrs. Darling at the bookend beginning and end of the story. Along the way, Emma Gaut as the Blue Jay, Chery Way as the Wolf, Anne Vistaunet as Smee and Katy Wilhems as Tiger Lily, contributed significant and well performed dancing to satisfy important roles in the story.
Everything about this production, taken all together, worked, to succeed in transporting the audience viewers into the fanciful, imaginary world created by J. M. Barrie in his story. As I sat there watching the performance, I was struck at how well it accomplished author Barrie’s intent of taking the audience out of whatever reality they were immersed in and into the entertaining childhood fantasy he had created. Gone for two hours were the harsh divisiveness of the current political climate in this country, the horrific loss of life in tragedies in London and other parts of the world, the devastation of famine in Africa, the fears of impending climate change disasters and all the other horribles of our current realities. Unless one has been rendered impervious and oblivious, it was nearly impossible not to be swept up in the unbridled passion, beauty and joy unleashed on the stage in the telling of this whimsical story of childhood enthusiasm. If you need a shot of elation, a little uplifting, this production of the Peter Pan tale will cure what ails you.
Miss Diana’s School of Ballet will again be presenting Kayla Garrett’s production of the ballet, Peter Pan, on Monday, July 10 at 11:00 am at the Britt Children’s Festival in Jacksonville. Later this year, December 15 to 17, Miss Diana’s School of Ballet will be presenting their performances of the Christmas season ballet, Nutcracker. For those interested in more information, or in ballet lessons and participation in events like these, you can contact Miss Diana’s School of Ballet online at www.missdianas.com or by phone at 541-941-7007.