BWW Reviews: Wheeldon's ALICE Gets a Score of 'Dance 10, Story 3'
On September 9th 2014, opening night of the NATIONAL BALLET OF CANADA's six-day run at the Koch Theater in Lincoln Center presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation, I found myself enchanted by most of Christopher Wheeldon's choreography for the evening-length production of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". I was also delighted overall with the inventive score by Joby Talbott as well as the elaborate costumes and sets by Bob Crowley. The dancing was first rate, too. What wasn't so wonderful was the silly love story that dramaturge Nicholas Wright felt compelled to introduce into Lewis Carroll's deservedly iconic childhood tale of a plucky young heroine off on her own for a great adventure in dreamland.
That said, I did like Wright's clever idea of having the people in Alice's life turn into the beloved fantasy characters of Carroll's story. In particular, having Carroll himself -- danced and acted ably by Dylan Tedaldi -- become the White Rabbit was a charming conceit. However, I could have done without the bizarre plot twist when the Rabbit disappeared into a jelly mold on a party table rather than down a rabbit hole.
Alice followed the Rabbit, thanks to one of production's multimedia sequences that I found overused. After she got to Wonderland, though, we were treated to some superb special effects. The huge Cheshire Cat puppet was capable of rearranging itself into various manifestations and the Caterpillar was rather like a Chinese dragon that covered the heads and bodies of a long row of ballerinas marching on pointe. Another excellent moment happened when the Red Queen, Alice's stern mother in real life, emerged from a huge plastic "gown" as it opened to reveal her and the beleaguered King inside.
After that dramatic entrance, clad in a red chiffon dress and red pointe shoes, Greta Hodgkinson as the Queen proceeded to perform a hilarious parody of the Rose Adagio from "Sleeping Beauty" with a group of her intimidated subjects. Kudos to the composer for capturing just enough of Tchaikovsky's melody so that all of us balletomanes got the joke right away. By then I had stopped fuming about the romantic scenario and given myself over to enjoying the entertainment, including a croquet game with ballerinas as the Flamingoes and enchanting appearances by Emily Bartosiewicz and Madysen Felber from Canada's National Ballet School as the Hedgehogs used as balls.
Also, in spite of my objections to the irritating love story, I commend Jillian Vanstone as Alice and Guillaume Côté as Jack/The Knave of Hearts for their winsome and skillful pas de deux as the besotted couple. Applause also to Robert Stephen in the role of the tap dancing Mad Hatter and to the corps de ballet for their joyous and meticulously rehearsed performance of a good old-fashioned classical ballet waltz sequence.
If you're in the New York City area and reading this before September 14th, I encourage you to head to Lincoln Center in order to experience "Alice" for yourself. I came out of the theater feeling happy and refreshed. I'm pretty sure you will as well!
Photo courtesy of the National Ballet of Canada