I’ve been infatuated with Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland ever since I was a kid. I currently have around 25 books in various versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland; those wonderfully warped stories interweaving with one another on my book shelf. Heck, I even have turf on the windowsill in my bathroom stamped with plastic letters that spell out W-E-L-C-O-M-E surrounded by miniatures of Alice, the Mad Hatter, White Rabbit, Queen of Hearts, and Chesire Cat. Who doesn’t want to colour up the rest room for a bit of fun?
Anyhow, it appears that theatre this summer is all about Alice revivals. Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre will be hosting a production of Alice in Wonderland featuring puppets in January while the Australian Shakespeare Company are putting on an outdoor performance packed with acrobatics, singing and on-point acting.
But my bet is the most memorable, vivid and vivacious production of Carroll’s classic tales is the West Australian Ballet’s ALICE (in wonderland) which premiered last weekend and runs at His Majesty’s Theatre until December 15.
Perth ought to feel very flattered to be the first folk to witness the epic masterpiece that is ALICE (in wonderland). The dancers’ lively movements and exact precision are impressive alone. Add to these beautifully painted sets, a sweeping live score from the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra, tricky but awesomely mastered special effects, and costumes that outshine any I’ve seen in an Alice adaptation (be it theatre or film). Indeed, audiences find themselves in the midst of something utterly brilliant.
Director Septime Webre has successfully turned a tried and true (and potentially tired) tale into something altogether innovative and exciting. Webre brings to the Perth theatre scene immense experience, having been director, choreographer and advocate of The Washington Ballet for 17 years, and Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Ballet most recently.
I can only imagine how involved this perfectionist must have been with every detail of his current production.
As Webre has said, ALICE is such a flamboyant story with so many outrageous and kinetic characters, they beg to be choreographed to. His psychedelic caterpillar never touches the ground, instead swerving forwards and backwards over the shoulders of other dancers; his Jabberwocky is a giant puppet on invisible sticks; his tall version of Alice a magical result of ingenious stage-work and clever costuming.
Costume Designer Liz Vandal – who literally had her work cut out for her – ought to make room on her mantelpiece for all the ‘Best Costume’ awards to come; praise deserved for every frill on every dress, every heartshaped patch on every vest, and every slipper perfectly coordinated with each colourful character’s outfit.
Kudos, too, has got to go to the dancers themselves who keep it together throughout the entire two-hour production – turning out, pliéing, pirouetting and gliding, all without losing one bit of lace or button.
Principal dancer Chihiro Nomura does a consistently superb job as the ever-moving Alice, excelling in the challenge of being up stage one second, down the next, then flying on a tight wire as she grows from sipping out of a bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’.
The entire coordination and refinement in this stage production is remarkable and hats off (even those tagged 10 and 6) to every individual involved.
The music, too, is perfectly matched, albeit crossing genres faster than some of the dancing: jazz for the Chesire Cat’s entrance, sitar and tabla for the mystic Caterpillar, disco for Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and an entire symphony for some of Alice’s greater moments of epiphany.
Forget all preconceptions of ballet being a somewhat uppity artform; ALICE (in wonderland) proves there’s diversity to be enjoyed in a stringent dance, humour to be had amid the discipline, and vigorous competition for every circus troupe or pole-dancing trollop who’ve graced His Majesty’s stage of late. ★★★★★
Various photography by Sergey Pevnev, Scott Dennis and Andrew Ritchie.
Visit www.waballet.com.au for more information.
ALICE (in wonderland) remaining performance dates:
* Free pre-performance talk # Director’s Circle
^ Young Professionals † Curtain Down