Wonderland by Collide: Dance and mental health in the shadow of the Great Gatsby

As the pandemic loosens its grasp on our part of the world, mental health seems like the perfect theme for  Wonderland, Collide Theatrical Dance Company’s outdoor dance in the back garden of the James J Hill Mansion. For folks outside of St Paul, the Hill Mansion is very much in the neighborhood where F Scott Fitzgerald hung out; so think swanky.

The story places Alice as new patient in a hospital with our favorite characters from Wonderland, each is afflicted with a mental health issue. The White Rabbit, for example, has anxiety about time and being late. I won’t detail everyone’s backstory because half of the fun is watching them roll out in dance. The dance is lightly narrated over a loud speaker, which makes it easy to follow and allows you to concentrate on the movement.

The dance includes modern, tap, ballroom and ballet and a wide range of music – from The Pixies, Lady Gaga, Nashville Cast and more. The dancing lifted me. It is amzing how the personality of a character can shine through dance and gestures. There were a few leaps that just floored me. Or times when the dancers spun each other toe over tail that was beautiful and fun to watch.

The beauty of the dance and location brought me to the show but it’s the depiction of the moments of mental health that will stay with me. Between pandemic and civil unrest, most of us have skated closer to the edge of “madness” over the last year. There were characteristics I recognized in myself and the people around me. Calling it out in dance normalized it in a comforting way.

Finally experiencing the show in the garden of the Hill Mansion, exactly one month before the Summer Solstice (the day The Great Gatsby’s Daisy Buchanan waited for all year) felt poignant. To see the downtown stretch in front of us. To be distracted moments before the show by the lifeline helicopter landing in the hospital nearby. To have a family of young eagles (or maybe very large blackbirds) appear to join the dance soaring above to Where is My Mind. The world maybe crazy but it is what makes it interesting!

The show is playing at the Hill House over weekends in May and then at the Mill City Museum in June.

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