The dance critic Edwin Denby once wrote, “Daily life is wonderfully full of things to see.” That observation came to mind on Thursday during Momix’s “Alice,” a banal and busy 85-minute spectacle now at the Joyce Theater. Not that anything particularly wondrous was going on; quite the opposite. At that point in the show, the thought of simply stepping outdoors into the city night — to look at traffic, or the sunset, or people in the streets — was more enticing than any fantasy depicted onstage.
Known for its illusionist extravaganzas, Momix, which was founded 42 years ago by the choreographer Moses Pendleton, has turned to Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” as inspiration for its latest. Conceived and directed by Pendleton, the work churns through short, prop-and-costume-driven vignettes — 22 of them — loosely derived from Carroll’s world. Aside from recurring appearances by multiple Alices, who have a tendency to drift in and out looking lost, not much holds these scenes together; they read as interchangeable parts. If you’re looking for any serious engagement with narrative or storytelling, this is not the rabbit hole for you.
The opening is about as good as it gets, with a simple elegance that in retrospect feels refreshing. Against a projection of a river and a lush green landscape, Jade Primicias (the first of the Alices) sits on a horizontally suspended ladder, reading a book emblazoned with her character’s name. The ladder begins to spin (aided by another performer), as her feet graze the floor in a lightweight bounding motion. Thus begins her descent.
From there, it’s an onslaught of attempts at psychedelic imagery, which often land closer to the mundane or vaguely offensive. Among many creatures and caricatures, we encounter a herd of feral rabbits, occasion for the night’s most athletic dancing (lots of split leaps); a trio of jovial suspender-clad Mad Hatters; and a plethora of queens, representing all playing-card suits. Acrobatic tricks and lifts punctuate the orderly choreography, at times involving objects like exercise balls or rolling platforms. Costumes with lives of their own distort and extend the body.
Projected backdrops, reminiscent of low-res screen savers, try to transport us. We’re at the beach; now we’re in the jungle. The high-energy soundtrack, an overstuffed and peripatetic playlist, seems intent on conjuring some unspecific sense of “the exotic.” A scene called “The Tweedles,” which pairs Bollywood music with bobbling white baby masks, aims to be amusing; it comes off as clumsy and careless. The most genuinely trippy scene is the shadowy “Cracked Mirrors,” in which reflective props and spidery lighting work together, along with the dancers, to disorient.
“Alice” is physically demanding, and the small cast of eight dancers deserves credit for shouldering its heavy load, which, evidently, can be not just strenuous but hazardous. On Thursday, during a scene in which cloaked figures skulk around with large round protrusions on their backs — their faces and bodies ensconced in elastic material — one dancer fell off the stage, and not on purpose. The audience gasped; it looked painful. The fallen performer managed to scramble back up and into the wings, and fortunately, a publicist for the company said, wasn’t injured.
Still, the incident revealed the dangers of this type of work, and underscored a nagging question: When wonder can come to us in so many forms, is “Alice” really worth the risk?
Through July 24 at the Joyce Theater; joyce.org.