Instead of a traditional Nutcracker this year we are treated to a revival by the Royal Ballet of Christopher Wheeldon’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND first seen in 2011. Whilst perhaps a trifle overlong and unwieldy, this work is visually stunning with some fabulous theatrical effects, dazzling dancing, and magnificent choreography.
There are perhaps hints and allusions to the Nutcracker in certain parts of Wheeldon’s choreography. Joby Talbot’s glittering,wonderful score is full of glissando mood swings and snazzy character expression.
The ballet begins by introducing all the cast at a garden party where Alice’s mother sacks the under-gardener, Jack (Federico Bonnelli) for stealing a jam tart. This is a cause for tears and tantrums from young Alice (Sarah Lamb) who was rather hoping to see him later for a tryst. Very handsome Bonnelli dances wonderfully as the Knave of Hearts/Jack . Alice’s home is also visited by the ‘real’ Carroll (that is, Charles Dodgson) and by characters who will later reappear in Wonderland.The work feels, at times, a bit dominated by set and visual design values.
The dangerous sausage-making scene in the lethal Cook’s kitchen could have come out of Sweeney Todd, and the axe-wielding psychotic madness of the Queen of Hearts creates a real sense of terror. The ballet, at times, immerses itself entirely in the rather surreal Carroll universe, following the dreamlike narrative and its nonsense-cum-logical progression with remarkable fidelity.
I thought Ricardo Cervera as the dithering White Rabbitt/Lewis Carroll was fabulous, and extremely stylish in his elegant white satin. I agree with one of the audience tweets-that he looked quite Elton John like with those glasses. He has incredible, soft bouncy pas de chats at one point, beautifully performed.
Zenaida Yanowsky as the tyrannical, malignant Queen of Hearts was brilliant and there was a wonderful somewhat angular pastiche of the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty with her four ‘suitors’. The gentle , old King of Hearts was perhaps brother to the red king in de Valois’ ‘ Checkmate’ .
I also enjoyed the aloof ,elegantly draped pink Flamingos as portrayed by the women of the company ( hints of Les Biches? ) and the cute hedgehogs in the croquet party in Act 3.
As the exuberant Mad Hatter with his dynamic, colourful tap shoes and dazzling style , Steven MCrae was superb. The strange tea party was excellently performed with the poor dormouse (James Wilkie) ending up in a giant cup .
Eric Underwood’s astonishing slinky Caterpillar and his slave girls harem was a delightful piece of Hollywood kitsch. And I loved the blue pointe shoes, especially encrusted with diamonds!
Special mention must also be made of the wonderful appearances of the frisky, mischievous Cheshire Cat.
Towards the end there is a very stylish and beautiful pas de deux between Alice (Sarah Lamb) and the Knave of Hearts (Federico Bonnelli) . And I loved the return, at the end, to the ‘real ‘ world of current, contemporary Oxford.
Summing up, this production was intriguing holiday fare.
Running time – allow 3 & ½ hours including two intervals. The film also includes a short documentary before hand on the making of the film, and Darcey Bussell interviews various people associated with the production during both intervals.
The Royal Ballet in ALICE IN WONDERLAND is part of the Palace Opera and Ballet series screening at selected cinemas 23-28 Jan 2015. For more information- http://www.palacecinemas.com.au/events/palaceoperaballet20132014vic/
Alice Sarah Lamb
Lewis Carroll/White Rabbit Ricardo Cervera
Mother/Queen of Hearts Zenaida Yanowsky
Father/King of Hearts Christopher Saunders
Jack/Knave of Hearts Federico Bonnelli
Magician/Mad Hatter Steven McCrae
Rajah/Caterpillar Eric Underwood
The Duchess Philip Mosley
Vicar/March Hare Paul Kay
Verger/Dormouse James WIlkie
Cook Kristen McNally
Fish/Footman Tristan Dyer
Frog /footman Marcelino Sambe
Conductor David Briskin