Alice in Wonderland, the whimsical, magical story of a girl named Alice who follows a mysterious White Rabbit down a rabbit hole and into a mystifying dream world, strikes me as a difficult subject for a ballet. I wondered how Metropolitan Ballet Theatre Creative Director Elizabeth Odell Catlett would handle the appearing and disappearing Cheshire Cat, or Alice’s fall through the rabbit hole, or how the somewhat complicated story would be conveyed through dance without one word being spoken. But I need not have worried. Ms. Catlett and her talented troupe of young ballerinas made the entire production look easy, with some of my favorite moments coming during those seemingly difficult to stage parts of the story.
Alice’s trip to Wonderland begins, as most people will remember, with Alice falling asleep during an outing with her sister. The White Rabbit, beautifully danced by Ella Rommel in the production I saw—you can practically hear him saying “I’m late!” through Rommel’s dancing and acting—appears and lures Alice away. She falls through a rabbit hole, where pieces of furniture swirl around her, aptly portraying the dizzying depth of the fall until she arrives in a strange new world.
I should take a moment here to compliment Lighting Designer Lynn Joslin, because from this scene on, lighting practically becomes a character in itself, as it is used to portray the confusion of Alice’s fall, to the humor of the Mad Tea Party, to the anger of the Queen of Hearts, and finally Alice’s fear as she begins her journey back to the real world.
Kudos also to the Costume Designers Laura Baxter, Elizabeth Odell Catlett, and Deborah Drennon for the whimsical and beautiful costumes worn by characters big and small. My favorites were the Mad Hatter, who was perfectly portrayed by Annebeth Heller, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, danced by Hope Miers and Ilaria Strucker, and the troupe of Flamingos who, you may recall from the movie, are used as croquet mallets. The more “ballerina-ish” costumes, including Alice’s very Disney-esque tutu, were beautiful to look at and easily recognizable as a variety of characters from a mouse, to butterflies, to the Cheshire Cat himself.
And finally, the students of MBT, ranging in age from 8 to 18, showed off their impressive dancing and acting skills, taking a story that could have been unfathomable to an audience without the use of voices, and turning it into a humorous, action-filled production. Victoria Chai, as Alice, was excellent both in her dancing and her acting abilities, and it was a joy to watch the younger kids perform next to their more seasoned peers. Other strong performances were put forth by Genevieve Pelletier as the Cheshire Cat, Pardiss Kaviani as the March Hare, and Sophie Heberlien as the Dormouse.
The Mad Tea Party scene with Kaviani, Heberlien, and Heller as the Mad Hatter was easily my favorite. Perfectly choreographed and danced, the characters were funny, outrageous, and lovable as they bounced from seat to seat, fought with each other, and generally caused a ruckus. Another funny scene takes place at the Dutchess’ House with the Cook, played by Stella Young, literally throwing plates at Alice making the audience laugh out loud.
If there was one weakness in the production, it might have been the score, which was commissioned in 1995 by the English National Ballet and is based on the music of Tchaikovsky. While the score wasn’t particularly memorable (you won’t leave humming as you might after seeing the Nutcracker), it didn’t take anything away from the beautiful dancing and acting of Metropolitan Ballet’s beautiful production of Alice in Wonderland. It was truly a worthwhile trip down the rabbit hole.
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission
Alice in Wonderland played four shows on Saturday and Sunday, March 15th and 16th, 2018, at the Robert E. Parilla Performing Arts Center at Montgomery College – 51 Manakee Street, in Rockville, MD. For more information on Metropolitan Ballet Theatre & Academy, go online.