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Canadian 'Wonderland'

Ballet is largely about fantasy, and the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy it is perhaps the greatest among all the arts, even more than in opera. How exactly that aura of fantasy has been achieved through the centuries has changed significantly, and some companies are moving past the traditional means of frilly costumes and carefully choreographed movements to make the dancers seem lighter than air. There are all kinds of theatrical and cinematographic possibilities that remain more or less unexplored, perhaps because these things can take away from the dancing part of ballet. The best use of modern technology in a ballet, which did not take away from the dancing, that we have seen is the work of the Royal Danish Ballet and their director Nikolaj Hübbe, who has used fly wires, mechanized sets, and advanced lighting to lift his choreography beyond the ordinary. The new Alice in Wonderland from the National Ballet of Canada (co-produced with London's Royal Ballet), which opened for a run at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Friday night, went even further in this regard, but too often at the expense of the dancing.

This leaves no complaints in the entertainment department, as this three-hour extravaganza, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon and staged by Jacquelin Barrett, goes full out in bringing Lewis Carroll's phantasmagorical world to life. Moving screens with video projections (designed by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington) create the effects of the fall down the rabbit hole and the doors that grow enormous next to the shrinking Alice; ingenious set pieces (sets and costumes by Bob Crowley) provide others, like the room-shaped box Alice crawls into when she grows huge, accompanied by massive arms and legs that descend onto the stage; gigantic marionettes operated by black-clothed puppeteers form the floating and sometimes separating parts of the Cheshire Cat; there is even tap dance, in the choreography of the Mad Hatter (danced energetically by Robert Stephen). It is a multimedia production, in which ballet places a part.

Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, At Kennedy Center, a jubilant ‘Alice’ that doesn’t worry about ravens or writing desks (Washington Post, January 21)
Perhaps not enough of a part for some enthusiasts. Alice and the Knave of Hearts have a couple of romantic duets, neither extended enough really to qualify as a pas de deux, danced longingly by handsome dancers Jillian Vanstone and Naoya Ebe, the latter an up-and-coming dancer promoted to First Soloist last year. There are some fun comic moments, especially from the herky-jerky queen of Greta Hodgkinson, and some exotic touches like the Caterpillar-cum-Arabian dancer of Jiří Jelínek (his dance concluded with a group of en pointe dancers making up a many-legged caterpillar). Still, for all its appeal -- a series of pleasing episodes rather than a dramatic arc (this is partly due to the source material, also adapted by Septime Webre just last year) -- the work's repetitive qualities grated on my nerves after a while. Part of the fault goes to the rather pedestrian score by Joby Talbot, like the staging full of bells and whistles -- celesta! glockenspiel! synthesized voices from a keyboard! The style is what one might call cinematic quasi-minimalism, lots of percolating repetition but few memorable melodies.

This production continues through January 27, at the Kennedy Center Opera House.

1 comment:

bronzino said...

Well, it certainly is popular--a nearly sold-out TWO week run (EVERY other visiting ballet has had only one week), the KC giftshop DVD of the ballet flying off the shelf, and the comments on the utube excerpt usually mention that the reason to see it is for the subject matter (aimed at young children PLUS the parent paying for the multiple tickets). Comic ballets are hard to pull off without being slapstick or farce--Fille Mal Gardee I could see over and over for its unexpected, touching humour, but this Alice, well, once is enough. But it will make money--not an unimportant consideration in our economic times. Wheeldon is such a gifted choreographer; I hope he is able to choose a meatier full-length BALLET next time.