I was sad not to have managed to get to see this when it was first on, and so was delighted to be able to experience it this time, and to see Lauren Cuthbertson dance the role of Alice. It’s not often you see a new full-length ballet, so this in itself was quite special. A lot of time, love, and money must have gone into this production, and it really did show.
The curtains open on a garden party scene. The scenery is beautifully idyllic, but it’s not long before Alice is plummeting down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. Throughout the entire production there will be a number of impressive uses of technology helping to bring this most eccentric story to life. A screen comes down, and there, seemingly floating in the middle of it, is Alice. She lands in a room of doors, none of which she can get through. A small door appears on stage at this point, and Alice tries to squeeze through to no avail. A range of visual tricks are used throughout this scene to allow for the series of size changes in the main character, which must have been something of a logistical nightmare. Cuthbertson plays the part spectacularly, trying to fit through the tiny door, and then jumping up to reach the door which is suddenly far too large for her to reach the handle (and sulking when she realises there’s just no way of reaching it). The picture that I saw several times previous to seeing the show of her hunched up in a corridor that is obviously too small for her was not in fact just part of a photo shoot, but part of the ballet, Cuthbertson climbing up into the scenery. It’s just fantastic the ways they came up with to deal with the various challenges that arise from the complexity of the story.
Act two leads us on to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. I managed to catch the rehearsal for this during Royal Ballet Live, and it was quite magnificent in real life. The costumes and props were wonderful. Steven McRae made a wonderful Mad Hatter, my only complaint is that we didn’t see much of him! Although in saying that, some productions linger far too long on this scene, I’d much rather be left wanting more than become bored.
Until the final act we have only seen the queen of hearts being wheeled around in a large red contraption, and I was pleased that she didn’t remain in it throughout. Her piece was a particularly humourous part of the evening (and there were several, not something you often expect to find in a ballet). The dancers acted brilliantly, terrified of this bloodthirsty queen, and there was an amusing parody of the rose adagio from Sleeping Beauty. Although only a minor part, I thought the young hedgehog was just fantastic.
There is so much to be said about this ballet; a brilliantly weird construction of the Cheshire cat, endless brilliant visual effects, and utterly wonderful dancing. Lauren Cuthbertson must have been utterly exhausted by the end, having been on stage for pretty much the entirety of the three acts, but didn’t let it show. This ballet would make a wonderful introduction to ballet, but also one not to be missed by long term ballet fans. Playful, funny, clever, eccentric, and wonderfully choreographed and produced, I’ll certainly jump at any chance I get to see it again (and in the meantime might just have to buy the DVD…)