The Fabled City holds a powerful place in our imagination. Especially popular during times of war or political upheaval, it can appear as a kind of Shangri-La, but its shadows are darker than our own, its colors more vivid. In some renderings it is our world turned on its head, while in others it suggests our looming future or inescapable past. Its inhabitants can seem to mirror us, or mock us, or, on occasion, want to replace us; but they are hungry for life, and the city behind them is captivating.
In the hands of artists this place has taken many names: Alphaville, Oz, Metropolis, the City On the Edge of Forever. Sometimes it occupies a world parallel to ours but made radically different by the presence of totalitarian governments, humanlike machines, sentient apes, or the living dead. The tales spun from there may address complex social issues such as militarism, consumerism, injustice, and climate catastrophe, or existential concerns about free will and the irrationality of life. But the city itself, a place of dizzying possibilities and consequences, remains a source of constant fascination.
In the actual world, the city that best fits this description may be our own. Other capitals now vie for its crown, but people around the globe still call New York the Center of Universe. We also know it as a deeply layered place, where a second world seems to exist just behind the first. In this other city, children caught in poverty can live just moments from million-dollar condominiums, flood tides can suddenly engulf entire neighborhoods, and the prospect of rare disease can spur a kind of panic.
In 1865, during great turmoil in Europe and America, Lewis Carroll’s depiction of another world, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, first saw publication. The book has become timeless, but its lawless universe and parody of meaning seem fully reflective of its era. Other influential works of speculative fiction, including J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937), Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men (2006) depict places whose cultural tensions seem birthed of their times yet also tied to our own.
On the 150th Anniversary of the publication of Lewis Carroll’s novel, DARK WONDERLAND is a four-week showcase for New York’s most visionary performing artists to hold a modern-day looking glass to our city and the world beyond, through spectacular presentations in theater, dance, and music. The series is held at Green-Wood Cemetery, a sprawling and historic city of immense power, and curated and produced by MAPP International Productions, a nonprofit producer of major performing arts projects that spark social change.
Given current events in our city and world, who knows what skyline might stand revealed once these artists pull back the veil?
Brian Tate, 2015
Executive Director, MAPP International Productions