The ballet movie from the Royal Ballet in London, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon and an original score by Joby Talbot is an interesting dance work and a social commentary on the original time (published in 1865) in which the book by Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was written.
The story is known as “literary nonsense” (although now we’d probably just call it “fantasy”) and it is easy to see why it is sometimes interpreted as a drug induced hallucination.
Alice Pleasance Liddell was ten when she and her sisters, the three young daughters of Henry Liddell, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University and the Dean of Christ Church) went rowing with Dodgson, an occasion when he told them a story about a bored little girl called “Alice”. Alice asked him to write the story down for her. He did, and the story was illustrated by John Tenniel.
Wheeldon sets the scene in Oxford, and we are introduced to Alice’s real life. We will find these characters again once Alice goes down the rabbit hole, albeit in somewhat different guises.
For the most part Wheeldon is very faithful to the storyline of the original. I can’t imagine what it must be like to watch this ballet without a knowledge of the original tale.
Now for the theatre magic, created by designer Bob Crowley. This is absolutely wonderful. I loved his zany creations and magnificent creative flair.
The first act is taken up, inter alia, by Alice (Sarah Lamb) being too big and too small. Alice was a middle child and this feeling of always being the wrong age is common to middle children. Not grown up enough for the activities of the older sibling, but too old for the activities of the younger one. She switches size by consuming the contents of a bottle and a cake, the latter which causes her to grow till her head hits the ceiling. She weeps and her tears form a pool which floods the hall. She is obliged to swim.
The flood washes up other animals and Alice holds a “Caucus Race” for them. And so it goes on. The Caterpillar disappointed me with its brief appearance, but I suppose at nearly three hours (with interval) the movie was really long enough, although the three hours passed by swiftly and painlessly. The hookah thing is often equated with drug use, but being a Christmas ballet for children, this was glossed over.
The Cheshire Cat was a charming piece of theatre magic courtesy of puppetry and black light, although it never disappeared entirely into just a grin. The Duchess’s Cook is throwing dishes and making a soup that has too much pepper, which causes Alice, the Duchess, and her baby to sneeze violently. That the story is not stripped of all its macabre features is shown here where the baby turns into a pig and is then turned into sausages. The Mad Hatter’s tea party is a fairly tame affair despite it featuring a tapping Mad Hatter (Steven McRae) but the croquet game with live flamingos and little ones as hedgehogs (the balls) is perfectly charming.
The third act belongs to the Queen of Hearts (Alice’s mother) danced by Zenaida Yanowsky . What magnificent character dancing spoofing the famous Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty. This ownership by the Queen is despite the fact that Alice and Jack (the Jack of hearts, a young gardener’s assistant and Alice’s crush) have a pas de deux in this act. There is no love story in the book and the love story on stage doesn’t convince. Too prosaic in a world of whimsey.
All round the story of Alice is charming even though some of the book cannot be translated into dance. Alice in Wonderland is considerably better than “yet another Nutcracker” (if I were a dictator Nutcracker would only be allowed to be produced once every five years). It is certainly worth seeing on film at the Cinema Nouveau theatres.