Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Royal Ballet's 'Alice' Sets a New Standard

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Royal Ballet's 'Alice' Sets a New Standard

Article excerpt

The full-length story ballet has long been a stalwart of classical repertoires, from 19th-century Romantic standards such as "Giselle" and "Swan Lake" to mid-20th century dramas like "Romeo and Juliet" and "Midsummer Night's Dream."

But original story ballets in the 21st century have been a rarity, and successful ones even more elusive. Which only serves to underscore the accomplishment of Christopher Wheeldon's three-act 2011 production of "Alice in Wonderland," the first full-length piece created for the Royal Ballet in 16 years, which I saw recently as part of the Ballet in Cinema movie theater screenings.

This dazzlingly theatrical take on the familiar Lewis Carroll tale scores on every account, from Joby Talbot's score -- a superb melding of the traditional and the contemporary -- to the vivid and witty set and costume designs (Bob Crowley) and innovative video projections (Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington). Add in Wheeldon's adroit and ingenious choreography, which makes the surreal cast of characters leap to life, and you have a new (if extravagantly challenging) story ballet standard.

Dramaturge Nicholas Wright helped tweak the familiar tale, adding a prologue set in an Oxford courtyard in 1862 with a twitchy Carroll (Edward Watson, soon to become the White Rabbit) reading a story to his nieces. It serves to introduce, in "Wizard of Oz"-like fashion, the characters Alice (Sarah Lamb) will encounter in her fantasy world to come, including the object of her affection, Jack, the gardener's son (Frederico Bonelli, who reappears as the Knave of Hearts).

The first act is a little long (at 70 minutes), but Lamb is so accurately adolescent and incorrigible and the "special effects" so dazzling -- in particular, Alice's tumble down the rabbit hole in which a marionette is shown on film spiraling down a tunnel as cinematic hearts, numbers and leaves fly by -- there's not a moment that's less than captivating.

Act II, however, is when things launch into full gear, starting with a splendidly surreal Sweeney Todd-esque butcher shop scene where the Duchess (Philip Mosely in drag) and the Cook (Kristin McNally) face off. …

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