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National Ballet of Canada: “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” - REVIEW

Posted By: KUSC · 10/22/2012 10:37:00 PM

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
October 19-21, 2012

Review by Victoria Looseleaf

It’s huge, hugely expensive and, unfortunately, hugely dissatisfying.  It’s Christopher Wheeldon’s frenetic take on Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”  Co-produced and premiered in 2011 by Britain’s Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, the three-act dance narrative had its U.S. premiere at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion over the weekend, with Canada’s world-class troupe (double-cast), providing a dizzying foray into the children’s classic.

Sonia Rodriguez in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland | Photo by Bruce Zinger
Sonia Rodriguez in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland | Photo by Bruce Zinger

The multi-million dollar budget was on full display in the 24 disparate scenes, with a cast of 70 dancers, plus a boatload of extras, including children, working hard to turn this story ballet into a perennial cash cow à la “The Nutcracker.”  Even Joby Talbot’s commissioned score, performed live with David Briskin conducting, proved bloated, with no musical motifs (calling all Tchaikovskys, Wagners and, yes, Bernard Herrmanns), helping to weave the onstage action into a unified whole.



Greta Hodgkinson with Artists of the Ballet
in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Aleksandar Antonijevic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland | Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
Aleksandar Antonijevic
in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Nicholas Wright’s scenario could be part of the problem (Carroll’s story is, after all, episodic), but it seems as if Wheeldon, once considered one of ballet’s great choreographic hopes, was on methedrine, the dancers relentlessly hopped up:  Sonia Rodriguez as Alice (seen on Friday), has stamina to burn, forever leaping and twirling in solos, as well as being cavalierly tossed about in her duets with Guillaume Côté’s Knave of Hearts, the pairing, alas, highlighting a lack of emotional resonance; Robert Stephen’s tap-dancing Mad Hatter gave the evening a vaudevillian feel; while the Busby Berkeleyesque dancing cards, er, corps, added to the visual onslaught.

Farce was the operative word for Greta Hodgkinson, whose psychotically gleeful Queen of Hearts fiercely parodied Petipa’s Rose Adagio from “The Sleeping Beauty;” and Aleksander Antonijevic’s bespectacled White Rabbit, juiced-up with jumps, was eminently watchable.  So, too, was the Cheshire Cat, its enormous body parts manipulated by eight dancers in several too-brief appearances.

Inventive as they are, but overwhelming the dance, however, are Bob Crowley’s lavish sets and Jon Driscoll’s and Gemma Carrington’s delirious video projections.  From the opening Victorian garden setting and the spiraling plunge into the rabbit hole to the shrinking/expanding doors and all they lead to - hedgehogs, flamingos, a gory butcher shop, the ax-wielding Queen – we are not so much submerged into this world, as, well, clobbered by it.  Such heavy-handed production values could be a reason to see this ballet, but it seems that dance itself should propel us into that rarefied world where beautiful bodies merge with transcendent choreography.  Add a cohesive score and there’s an opportunity to pack an emotional wallop.  (Think Balanchine’s “black and white” ballets, many set to Stravinsky, for example.)



Sonia Rodriguez in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Photo by Bruce Zinger

 

As much as the original “Alice in Wonderland” is a fantasy - and magical at its core – Wheeldon’s conjurings give the art form a back seat to theatrical razzle-dazzle.

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  1. Regina & Ian Whitcomb posted on 10/29/2012 10:06 AM
    We saw Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and loved it. In fact, as I exited the theater I walked directly to the box office and bought tickets for the next evening. I brought a friend (a professional dancer) and her, 12 year old, daughter. They loved it. I saw things, the second time, I hadn't seen the day before.

    My husband & I attended the talk before the show. We enjoy hearing something of the ballet or opera before curtain. It's certainly not necessary to do this, it simply adds to a layer of enjoyment for us.

    Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a delightful marriage of modern and classical. We loved the references to Tchaikovsky (I think I heard a nod to Saint-Saëns). I adored the set and use of multi-media. We found the choreography a delicious recipe of (beautifully) classic with modern styling for spice. The farcical bits were truly funny and inspiring.

    If AAiW needs anything it might be stronger Pas de deux. Gillian Murphy and David Hallberg, of ABT, are Gold. We loved Alice's Adventures and give it a strong Silver Medal.
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