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Collective Growth

What would the story of Alice in Wonderland look like if it was reimagined by a group of women? In international dance collective Nefer Global Movement’s version, “Remember”—which they presented during their debut at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival on August 3, 2023—the classic tale keeps its signature color, whimsy, and imagination, but uses the caterpillar’s frustratingly existential question, “Who are you?” to explore themes of individual identity and collective growth.

Performance

Nefer Global Movement: “Remember”

Place

The Henry J. Leir Stage at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, August 3, 2023

Words

Sophie Bress

Nefer Global Movement in “Remember,” Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Photograph by Cherylynn Tsushima

“Remember” opens on a decorated stage, complete with a covered table set with four green martini glasses—a new version of the classic Mad Hatter’s tea party. For the Cheshire Cat, a perch is made from chairs covered in a shimmering silver cloth. The Caterpillar’s post is a cushion covered with a similar textile, this one purple. A door is set to one side of the scene.

On the famous Henry J. Leir outdoor stage, the work feels even more otherworldly and magical. The evening’s wind becomes a character all its own, blowing the cloths, garments, and set pieces—imbuing them with movement.

Jihene Slimani and Tatiana Desardouin in “Remember,” with Nefer Global Movement, Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Photograph by Cherylynn Tsushima

The dancing begins with a series of divertissements, each character defining herself. Tall and elegant, Tatiana Desardouin makes a regal Mad Hatter, presiding over the events of the evening with an aloof and amused, yet almost maternal, air. With a wide grin and open-eyed stare, Jihene Slimani makes a vigilant and playful, if somewhat clumsy, Cheshire Cat. Nubian Néné is a graceful, languid, and self-assured caterpillar. Oluwatoyin Sogunro, meanwhile, is an enraptured Alice, mimicking the wonderland creatures as they present themselves. Hopping in and out of sight, Tiffany Sogunro is the elusive, frustratingly flighty, White Rabbit.

After introducing themselves, the fantastical cast of characters ask Alice to do the same, confronting a bewildered Sogunro with swathes of reflective material held in their hands. This moment is the first time the dancers have joined all together in movement, collaborating to, ultimately, bring Alice to a higher understanding of herself. 

As the work draws to a close, each woman visibly transforms onstage, changing from character costumes to—for the Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, and Alice—fabulously colorful and shimmering gowns and dresses. In lieu of a more dramatic costume change, the Caterpillar sprouts a pair of pink gossamer wings. The five dancers walk downstage with the confidence of runway models, coming to a seat at the edge of the stage.

Nefer Global Movement in “Remember,” Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival. Photograph by Jamie Kraus

At this moment, costuming takes center stage. But the dancers’ apparel has been a key element in the entire performance—not only in transforming each performer into her respective character and bringing to mind the signature style of Alice in Wonderland—but also as a method to proclaim individuality and uniqueness. Other non-movement elements, like the music (a mix of tracks by artists including Outkast, Boddhi Satva, and Sault) bring the story into a space that is simultaneously otherworldly and easily relatable to contemporary society, feelings, and experiences. 

Through a re-framing of the classic story, “Remember” addresses questions surrounding identity and reveals that, sometimes, the answers to those questions lie within community. In the program notes for the work, Nefer Global Movement outlines their mission as “celebration of individual and shared histories, opportunities for expression, and the chance to watch other members thrive.” “Remember,” then is more than a debut at Jacob’s Pillow, it’s a kinesthetic mission statement and proclamation of ethos.

Sophie Bress


Sophie Bress is an arts and culture journalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. In her writing, she focuses on placing the arts within our cultural conversations and recognizing art makers as essential elements of our societal framework. Sophie holds a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. She has been published in Dance Magazine, L.A. Dance Chronicle, The Argonaut, Festival Advisor, and more.

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