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Reviews/Ballet/Dance

A rabbit hole brimming with vivid sensory experiences

7 May 2022

Superbly danced, West Australian Ballet’s ALICE (in wonderland) is a trip worth taking, advises Kim Balfour.

ALICE (in wonderland), WA Ballet ·
His Majesty’s Theatre, 7 April 2022 ·

When Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane screamed “feed your head” it was in reference to ingesting some kind of mushroom. But if you’re not a fan of fungi, filling your head with West Australian Ballet’s production of Septime Webre’s ALICE (in wonderland) might be the next best thing.

An adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s psychedelic tale, Webre’s ALICE is a trippy hyperactive ride, brimming with vivid sensory experiences and superbly danced set pieces. First presented by WAB in 2019, the production has lost none of its kaleidoscopic appeal.

The ballet opens with the yawning expanse of a blue-hued stage, a blank page yet to be filled, a looming monochromatic vacuum ready to suck into its void the production’s surreal cast of colourful characters.

The caterpillar scene in Alice (in Wonderland) - Asja Petrovski, as the caterpillar, is held aloft by a group of white tuxedo clad, masked dancers. Her back is arched so that her blue and black stripy legs tower above her head. The scene is overwhelmingly blue.
A trippy ride: Asja Petrovski as the Caterpillar with WAB dancers. Photo: Bradbury Photography

As her family buzz busily around her, dominated by the intense power dynamics between her Mother (Glenda Garcia Gomez) and Father (Matthew Lehmann), Alice (Carina Roberts) is drawn in by family friend, Lewis Carroll, who reads her Alice in Wonderland whilst they are on a boat ride. This prologue represents Carroll’s real life, his friendship with the Liddell family, and his regular excursions with ten-year-old Alice Liddell.

Alice eventually drifts off to sleep, and daydreams herself down a rabbit hole, emerging in Carroll’s Wonderland. The White Rabbit that she follows, clad in a tux adorned with timepieces, is danced throughout with charm, wit, and signature bounce and tail wiggle by Oliver Edwardson in the cast viewed.

After following the rabbit to a random hallway, Alice samples the food and beverages on offer and begins the well-known growing, shrinking, and tight squeezes sequence. Cleverly crafted puppetry, aerobatics, and other transfixing illusions render Carroll’s psychedelic literary visions into material manifestations.

Roberts’ nimble, bright, and airy performance throughout the ballet, even while being tossed, stretched, and suspended, effectively captures the essence of Carroll’s Alice.

The "growing" scene from Alice (in Wonderland) sees Carina Roberts perched above two extremely long legs. Far below her, at stage level, are child dancers in brightly coloured monochromatic costumes.
Carina Roberts is nimble, bright and airy as Alice. She is pictured here with child guest artists as Little Doors in ‘ALICE (in wonderland)’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

It really cannot be overstated how the set design (James Kronzer), lighting design (Clifton Taylor), puppetry (Eric Van Wyk), costume design (Liz Vandal), and music score (Matthew Pierce) are everything in this work, combining the irony, satire and colourful vibrancy of 60s pop-art couched within the era’s essentialist minimalism.

There are jazzy big band moments, such as the Mancini-like score to Matthew Lehmann’s lithe and seedy Cheshire Cat scene, with an eclectic shift to a rendition of classic electronic dance music banger, ”Take Me to The Love Parade”, at the cool, entrancing, and unpredictable Mad Hatter’s (Ludovico Di Ubaldo) flower power tea party.

The Madhatter's tea party scene in 'Alice (in Wonderland)'. As the Mad Hatter, Ludovico Di Ulbado explodes towards the camera in a waistcoat, shirt, tie and dress pants that are a riot of colour. Behind him are a group of dancers with daisy petal headdresses framing their face and a backdrop of Gerberas.
The cool, entrancing and unpredictable Madhatter’s flower power tea party. Pictured are Ludovico Di Ubaldo as the Mad Hatter and WAB dancers as Daisies in ALICE (in wonderland). Photo: Bradbury Photography

After crying a sea of tears and befriending the adorable and animated Dormouse (Mayume Noguromi), Alice encounters the famous Caucus Race. The setting is again entrancing, featuring a flamboyance of flamingos, followed by an excellent pas de deux by Dodo (Juan Carlos Osma) and Eaglet (Dayana Hardy Acuna). The Caucus Race scene is an example of how ALICE, despite containing all the elements of Alice in Wonderland, occasionally departs somewhat from the original text with respect to focus. The Caucus scene is longer than expected, but watching the classical virtuosity of Osma and Acuna is a spectacular treat well worth Webre’s artistic licence.

Glenda Garcia Gomez embraces and relishes her role as the vicious Queen of Hearts, adorned with pixelated hearts embroidered onto a stunning red and black corseted villainess costume. This costume is just one of Vandal’s many superbly fashioned outfits, many of them created with richly coloured latex. To choose another from many examples, the Caterpillar’s costume and eventual transformation is gorgeous. Dancer Asja Petrovski imbues the Caterpillar with a seductive hedonism, effortlessly snaking, weaving and swimming through a dreamy purple haze.

Matthew Lehmann, as the King of Hearts, holds his hands up in dismay in 'Alice (in Wonderland)'.
Some of Liz Vandal’s superbly fashioned costumes: Matthew Lehmann as the King of Hearts, Alexa Tuzil, Polly Hilton and Asja Petrovski as the Roses in ‘ALICE (in wonderland)’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

Alice has too many captivating moments and performances to do justice in a single review, but other standout moments include Izaak Westhead’s Joker, the Fish (Ruben Flynn-Kann) and Frog (Adam Alzaim), the ensemble Doors scene, the panto style antics of the Cook (Matthew Edwardson) and the Duchess (Jack Whiter), the cast of very talented children for the cuteness factor, and the appearance of the fearsome Jabberwocky.

ALICE is such a fun, exciting, and inventive piece of entertainment that you really just have to go and see it for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

ALICE (in wonderland) continues until 21 May 2022.

Pictured top: Glenda Garcia Gomez embraces and relishes her role as the Queen of Hearts. She is pictured her with Matthew Lehmann (the King of Hearts) in ‘ALICE (in wonderland)’. Photo: Bradbury Photography

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Author —
Kim Balfour

Kim Balfour is writer and former professional dancer, who has danced with companies such as WA Ballet and Sydney Dance Company. Kim has worked as a freelance writer for over 15 years, including the role of dance writer for The West Australian newspaper. In 2020, Kim was selected as a writer-in-residence at the Centre for Stories, and is currently writing a work of creative nonfiction on gender identity and expression in dance. As a child Kim was sometimes seen sitting on a gently spinning playground carousel, deep in thought, staring at her feet as they dragged along the ground.

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