We all know the story of Alice in Wonderland. We all know incorrectly named Disney animation and the also incorrectly named Tim Burton starring, you correctly guessed, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. These films in cooperated elements from both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, the novels by Lewis Carroll. Side note, I read them quiet recently … I think I need to read them again as I didn’t “get them”. But Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I got.
Yet again, I find myself in the cinema watching something I could never afford to see live. The Royal Opera House’s production is correctly named because it just focuses on the first book, we meet the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, The Duchess, The Queen of Hearts and more importantly the Knave of Hearts. Wheeldon’s narrative uses some much needed parallels. Alice attends a typical English Garden party with a colourful array of guests including her parents’ friend Lewis Carroll. It is Carroll who sprouts a white tail and leads Alice down the infamous rabbit-hole where things get curiouser and curiouser.
Designer Bob Crowley had quite the task. In my experience, Alice has only been under taken with the use of animation, but then again, I only know of the two films previously stated. So for it to be on a stage, even a stage as large as ROH, I could not conceive how it could be done. There was the odd cheeky projection, it would never plausible from a real person to continuously fall down a rabbit hole, which were excusable because the rest was done with the imagination and grace. The Cheshire Cat was a puppet manned by no less than six or seven dancers.
Joby Talbot’s score compliments the moment, as does Wheeldon’s choreography. Rhythmic ticking for the white rabbit for example, and the Mad Hatter we meet is actually a Mad Tapper. The story was in total control of what we see and hear rather than shoe horn the madness of Alice into a traditional ballet. It must have been a very different experience watching it live as you were able to take in the phenomena as a whole rather than seeing it through a restricting camera lens. However, the live audience could not see Alice’s expresses as clearly as we could. These dancers are actors too. I think I’ll always choice a cinema screening rather than a live ballet because I would hate to lose that. I’m still new to ballet so at times of confusion, I know I can always rely on facial expressions to guess the plot! The very detailed outlines in programmes help too.