One of my favourite books is Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and this is probably the same for you and millions of other readers. Written as a children’s novel, its wit, imaginative creations and bizarre ideas has struck our mind like a thunderbolt and never left. The story of Alice has been transformed on stage, film and, as of 2011, The Royal Ballet introduced their own ballet with choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, music composer Joby Talbot and designer Bob Crowley.
Last Monday was the international cinema screening of the three-act ballet and by the end of it, I was beating myself over how long I had left it to see this wonderful show. It’s hard to pinpoint a favourite scene as there are so many. From the music, dance sequences to set designs, there are many things going on and clearly a large effort from all involved at the Covent Garden’s Royal Ballet company.
Beginning with Bob Crowley, he invested time on multiple scenes; from a needle threaded background of a house with the words Home Sweet Home, a lake filled with Alice’s tears to the Duchess’s scary slaughter cottage with a cook who makes pigs into sausages. Yet he delights us more with his creative imagination through his 3D model of the Cheshire Cat controlled by puppeteers and an exotic, midnight blue caterpillar with eight pairs of ballerina legs. Crowley is also in charge of costume design, which had to be finished a year and a half before the actual performance, and nothing is missed. Steven McRae has a boisterous and colourful suit as the tap dancing Mad Hatter, Gary Avis’s Duchess has an exuberant purple Victorian dress while Lauren Cuthbertson’s is in a cute and simple violet ballerina dress, equipped for flamboyant movement.
Crowley confessed that violet was the colour he associated most with love, not the common red. I can even remember the brown, spiky outfits for the children performing as the frightened, little hedgehogs and female dancers sloping down like pink flamingos for the Queen’s game of croquet. Projection designer Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington also deserve a shout out for their clever design skills in showing the varying perspectives of doors getting larger and smaller which in turn make Alice (Cuthbertson) seem both like a giant and a tiny girl after drinking a bottle that says ‘Drink Me’.
Joby Talbot’s music composition is also diverse in moods and genres, which include the romantic music to accompany the pas de deux between Alice to Jack, the mystery of the Cheshire Cat to hints of Eastern notations for the Caterpillar. There’s also a parody piece with Tchaikovsky’s Rose Adage from his Sleeping Beauty ballet to coincide with the Queen of Heart’s comical performance in the final act. The music is extraordinary and sweet (it almost hurts my face to smile).
Christopher Wheeldon has captured a historically world-known story and brought it to life in a contemporary dance and ballet form, that includes both the cheerful and the macabre sections of the book. The dances are individually characteristic and collaborative with some sequences that completely remind us that we are watching a ballet for when we spend too much time focusing on the adventures of Alice. In one scene in the final act, while waiting for the Queen’s arrival, the Royal Ballet dancers, both male and female, act as spades, clubs, diamonds and hearts, and give an outstanding performance embodying the regimental and courtly behaviour of those that bow down to the Queen. These elements cannot be possible without a talented group of principal dancers out of the Royal Ballet including Lauren Cuthbertson (Alice), Federico Bonelli (Jack/Knave of Hearts), James Hay (The White Rabbit), Laura Morera (The Queen of Hearts), Steven McRae (The Mad Hatter), the Caterpillar (Fernando Montaño) and The Duchess (Gary Avis). This one may seem fitting just for the family but actually, it’s for anyone who wants to see an adventure bloom on stage. This show will definitely brighten up your day irrespective of seeing it at the Royal Opera House or at the movies.