Dance, Reviews, Stage

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dance review (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland works exceptionally hard to take us into a dream world – but does it truly transport our hearts and minds elsewhere?

In the Australian Ballet’s trippy take on the Lewis Carroll tale, we journey with Alice from quaint Oxford gardens to deep under the sea; then to a sausage factory with knife wielding workers before arriving at a tea party with a tap-dancing Mad Hatter.

Alice winds up at the palace of the mad Queen of Hearts, where roses must be red, or it’s quite simply “Off with your head!”

There’s a twitchy, neurotic rabbit, a google-eyed fish, a leaping green frog, a creepily grinning Cheshire cat, and countless other crazy characters to encounter before Alice awakes dazed, confused, and a bit like the audience, wondering what the hell that was all about.

ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND_Shaun Andrews and Adam Bull_photoJeff Busby
Shaun Andrews and Adam Bull in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Photo by Jeff Busby

It’s hard to pinpoint who this take on Alice is pitched at, kids or adults. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon in 2011 for The Royal Ballet, the quirky characters and significant amount of pantomime are suited to young viewers. But at about three-hours all up, with a few shadier undercurrents, and heroic dance solos and partner work, there’s an argument it’s better for the grown-ups.

The stagecraft is immense, with over 350 vivid costumes and 27 set changes designed by Bob Crowley. Puppetry work created by Toby Olié is mesmerising, and visual projections by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington take us swirling down a rabbit hole, swimming with fish and playing cards.

This all sets the scene for some fantastic performances from a very well-rehearsed cast.

Ako Kondo led the way at Saturday’s opening an energetic, spirited Alice. From start to end she delivered the complex, demanding moves with confidence and charisma. As her friend/blossoming love interest/accused jam tart thief Jack/The Knave of Hearts, Ty King-Wall danced with polish. And as Lewis Carroll/The White Rabbit, Adam Bull was just the tail-shaking, ear scratching, socially awkward creature you’d expect to guide you through a psychedelic dream.

021_TAB_ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND_Ako Kondo_photo Jeff Busby
Ako Kondo in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Photo by Jeff Busby.

Valerie Tereshchenko commanded the role of Queen of Hearts, injecting a great dose of humour to the ruthless villain. Pastiche (when ballet is deliberately done badly) was key to the part, and this can often be irritating. But Tereshchenko gave it so much punch that it worked.

Company director David McAllister, who has announced he will be handing over the baton in late 2020, took to the stage as a flamboyant, vibrant Duchess, to a popular reception.

Orchestra Victoria, led by conductor Simon Thew, does a brilliant job with the very complex, varied score by Christopher Austin and Joby Talbot. Some quirky sound elements, like rams’ horns and handbells, are used to accentuate the chaos of Alice’s experience.

In 2018, this version won the Helpmann Award for Best Ballet. However, while it’s visually impeccable, it lacked some award-winning emotional punch. It’s often simpler productions, pared back to stunning dancers and their raw expressions, that truly transport the viewer into a dream.

Until June 22

2 responses to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland dance review (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

  1. Melinda obviously had a somewhat deprived childhood, as she seems to have misinterpreted Lewis Carrols immortal story of “Alice in Wonderland” through how she misunderstands the ballet.
    Alice goes down a rabbit-hole to a land where, once you accept the premise of “we’re all mad here” everything makes consequent sense. We are never taken under the sea: Alice, having consumed one of the foods that makes her grow bigger, weeps a sea of tears, in which she and the ‘mad’ creatures swim; the ‘sausage factory’ is a clever , witty version of the Duchess’s crazy kitchen, where the Cook and the Duchess battle it out over the unfortunate baby.
    The story, of which the ballet is a brilliant interpretation, was written for a child, but will always have a much wider appeal for readers of all ages, the essential element to appreciation of the wit of both story and ballet being a lively sense of humour.
    Both Wheeldon’s choreography and Talbot’s perfectly matched music are a joy to the lovers of Carrol’s tale as well as other ballet lovers with a vivid imagination.

  2. There is no balletic “brilliant interpretation” of Alice’s adventures, and chances are there will never be. And this version is a crystal-clear demonstration of this. Not because I’m telling you so, but because of the medium chosen: dance,would you believe, will never convey verbal jousting or wordplay with ballet steps, no matter how brilliant. Should that miraculously happen once in a while, it wouldn’t be true to the mainspring of dance, which is precisely to express things words cannot . Curiously enough, this has already being said (more than half a century ago) by Arnold Haskell, the British dance critic which indeed warned prophetically against the temptation to go for Alice’s books as source material, and explained why, much better i’ll never will. I’d strongly suggest reading his works to a better understanding of what makes good material for ballet and why. For all the efforts of all involved and the lavish side of the production, and despite the best of intentions, to all purposes this ballet deserves nothing but a word: BORING.

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