Alice in Wonderland
at the Apollo until Saturday 26th February 2000
Lewis Carroll's surreal and magical world is brought to life this week at the Apollo, with English National Ballet's colourful extravaganza of intricate costumes and clever illusion.
The wonderful array of costumes is probably the most noteworthy aspect of this production. Most characters require not only costumes, but full masks as well (designs for Alice required thirty prosthetic pieces for characters such as the Duchess...). Hence it is some feat that we have mad hatters, gryphons and mock turtles, among other things, who are not only mad but can also pirouette across the stage. The Mad Hatter (Timothy Wild) is a flamboyant figure across the tea-table, ordering the lively teapot to pour and sending his hat to himself on a moving dinner plate. He and his compatriot the March Hare (Yosvani Ramos) remain true to form as they torment the Dormouse (Simone Clarke) by attempting to sit on her, while Alice (danced by the aptly named Alice Crawford - a Carrollian muse indeed...) rushes around trying to placate everybody. The White Rabbit (Yat Sen Chang) is suitably nervous, popping up when you least expect him and zooming off across the stage, unhindered, it seemed, by his rather cumbersome rabbit suit.
My favourite was the caterpillar, a delightfully odd fellow who glows green and slithers across the stage to the rattle of a snake-charmer style melody. The adaptation of classic ballet movements to suit the character is very skilfully choreographed, as André Portasio portrays the movements of the creature with an arching back and writhing legs , somehow conveying the darker side to the opium-smoking insect. I was not so enamoured, however, of the cheshire cat (Felipe Diaz), who seemed to me to be distinctly mangy, and could have had more of a smile. As for Alice herself, within that little blue dress and white apron there did not seem to be much personality, the bright white smile hiding a character who never progressed beyond the insipid. Dream Alice (Daria Klimentova) was much more engaging, dancing an elegant pas de deux with the Knave of Hearts (Nathan Coppen).
The production is less an ongoing story than a series of, it must be said, disjointed tableaux, all aesthetically brilliant in their own right, but somehow separated by the lack of verbal repost so crucial in Carroll's text. The scenes in the first half captures the sense of surreality that always accompanies a vision of Wonderland. As Alice falls down the rabbit hole the stage is separated into sinister realms of darkness and light which have no definite ending or beginning. The sea of tears is a whirling mass of blue material beneath which the animals flounder, while the Garden of Living Flowers is a gaudy, unreal (or surreal) display of bright pink tissue-paper flowers and doily leaves. The impression that the whole thing has been cut out and stuck on by some giant child is appropriate to the childish nature of Caroll's fantasy. In the second half the scenery excels itself, again with tissue-paper rose bushes for the croquet match, and a giant page of a book in the card court. The use of illusion too, adds to the fantastical nature of the scenes, and sliding panels and magic boxes feature among the surprise magic effects.
Bringing Alice In Wonderland to the theatre was never going to be easy, with its complicated themes and unusual characters. While the ballet never addresses the more subversive undercurrents running through Carroll's vision, it can almost be seen as the equivalent of Tenniel's drawings that illustrated the book. And indeed, 'what is the use of a book,' thought Alice, 'without pictures'... This is an entertaining production which can't fail to enthrall the kids.