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