With 146 bodies involved both on- and offstage in The National Ballet of Canada’s (NBoC) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the production is certainly quite magnificent in size and creation. Running from March 14 to 29, it is full of striking costumes, lively sets, humourous props and entrancing projections, yet I couldn’t help but feel that there were one too many performers on stage.
Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon in 2011 as a co-production of the NBoC and The Royal Ballet, the ballet is inspired by Lewis Carroll’s famous story of the same name. This is the third time that the NBoC has mounted the production, which has also toured to cities like Ottawa and Montréal. It is an audience favourite, as is Wheeldon’s choreography: his newest work, A Winter’s Tale, will be performed for Canadian audiences during the 2015/2016 NBoC season.
Jillian Vanstone’s Alice was quite lovely, as her movements maintain the playful yet naïve character she portrays. Vanstone plays Alice in the evening performances on March 18, 21, 25 and 28. Despite the fact that Vanstone spends 106 minutes of the 114-minute running time onstage, you never get tired of watching her gorgeous style and comical temper tantrums. However, the character that steals the show is the ever-late White Rabbit. Played by Dylan Tedaldi, (March 14, 18, 21, 25, 28) his rabbit-like mannerisms were to die for and his technique on point. Rarely has a rabbit jumped so high!
The ballet itself is able to maintain a delicate balance of technical virtuosity and creativity. Movement qualities change drastically between characters. This showcases each dancer’s incredible ability to move and transform, much like the animals they portray. The Caterpillar slithers through the space in a captivating way, while the White Rabbit employs upright and uptight movements, along with classical jumps. He also has hilarious idiosyncratic tics, like scratching his head or leg much like a rabbit would. Being that there are eighteen different species of animals represented in the performance — each with their own movement qualities — they all met a very high standard in their own ways.
The story of Alice is set in an ever-changing landscape, which was fully realized in the performance. Using innovative technology, the performance was a cornucopia of pleasant surprises, including puppets, tap dancing, costume changes and confetti. Props moved freely onstage and performers interacted with projections, all contributing to the magic.
Alongside the characters from Carroll’s book, an additional main character was added: Jack, the gardener boy, who later becomes the Knave of Hearts in the magical land. His role is that of Alice’s forbidden love interest (because what would a ballet be without a story of forbidden love). As lovely a dancer as Naoya Ebe (Jack) is, I was disappointed that a ballet so technically innovative couldn’t find a way to be just as innovative in its storytelling. Does this ballet really need an additional male character to drive the narrative?
Alice’s motivation changes with the addition of the role of Jack. Instead of simply going on an adventure after following the White Rabbit down the hole, she goes on her adventure with the added intent of finding her forbidden love. With this change in objective, the story follows the pattern of the traditional ballets we all know. The story left unchanged would have been more powerful for the ballet and its viewers.
Even with the addition of a problematical character, this production will knock your socks off. You will fall in love with the characters, the costumes, the dancing and the overall world created here in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.~