Canadian dancers chase away winter blahs
Washington area folks are dealing with the winter doldrums and the concern about RGIII’s surgically repaired knee. If you’re looking for some daylight, hurry to buy tickets to the National Ballet of Canada’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a welcome relief, at The Kennedy Center through next Sunday afternoon.
For sheer entertainment, nothing tops the Canadian’s take on the familiar Lewis Carroll tale, set to Joby Talbot’s rich, exotic score with striking sets and costumes by Broadway Designer Bob Crowley. Indeed, this adventure is a feast for the senses, even before the dancing starts.
British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon integrates neo-classical ballet with the scenario by Nicholas Wright. While serious balletomanes may complain the theatrical tricks upstage the dancing, I was swept away with the grandiose of this production.
The ballet begins in a garden behind what looks like manse from TV’s Downton Abbey. All the main characters are present in the opening scene. Even the author, Lewis Carroll, himself, is among the guests, performing a card trick for Alice, who only has eyes for a young cad named Jack.
Soon the magical trip down the rabbit hole begins – in this case, a swirling vortex projected on the scrim – with Alice unfurling a flag that proclaims, “Art, Tart, Start.” Then off she goes on an adventure where she meets up with the partygoers/characters. Her mother becomes The Queen of Hearts, the magician, the Mad Hatter, and the narrator, The White Rabbit, etc.
Jillian Vanstone was a tour-de-force as the opening night Alice, on stage virtually the entire three-act ballet. The rest of the cast (principals, soloists, and character artists) displayed great endurance. Robert Stephen as the Mad Hatter in Friday evening’s performance pulled off a triple time step in his vaudeville tap dance number smack in the middle of Alice’s dash to the Tea Party. Jillian Vanstone was brilliant with her point work – her pretty toe shoes fluttered across the stage as if she were a feather floating by.
Nonetheless, the biggest applause was given to the Cheshire Cat, prancing about with the help of a half dozen dancers dressed in black, the scene effectively lit by Tony Award winner Natasha Katz and her crew. Or perhaps it was the Caterpillar with multi-legs creeping across the stage.
Throughout the ballet, Christopher Wheeldon’s humorous touches abound. Did he poke fun at another story ballet when Alice picks up a rose or two from her male suitors a la Rose Adagio from The Sleeping Beauty? Did I also see three legs raised in a rising tableau like the muses in Balanchine’s Apollo?
A shout goes out to Conductor David Briskin who led the orchestra through some intricate musical variations from instruments rarely heard in a ballet. There were moments when I thought of Tchaikovsky who created a new tinkling sound for the Sugar Plum in The Nutcracker. Joby Talbot’s score adds to the wonder of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with two-20-minute intermissions.
The National Ballet of Canada’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dances through Sunday, January 27, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324,or purchase them online.