Fort Worth — Curious, indeed.
Ben Stevenson and Texas Ballet Theater weave a marvelous tale of a young girl’s peculiar imagination with Alice in Wonderland presented at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. Luscious visuals, the beautiful sounds of live music, and exquisite dancing have all become hallmarks of TBT shows, and this one is no exception. The Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Michael Moricz, provides rich accompaniment as the musicians play Joseph Horovitz’s score of the same name.
Audiences are invited to revisit childhood as Alice (Carolyn Judson on Friday night) drifts into an afternoon sleep and follows a White Rabbit (Andre Silva) down a hole into Wonderland.
The rest of the ballet is a constant lesson in suspension of disbelief. It’s required of many theatrical productions, especially most ballets, but this one proves that there’s ballet logic and then there’s Alice in Wonderland.
Like when lobsters and other sea creatures dance in front of a desert scene. Or when Alice opens her mouth and—gasp!—words come out. But more on that later.
Once Alice enters Wonderland, a random assortment of animals greet her and follow along through the exploration of this strange new world. A Dodo bird (danced hilariously by Alex Danna), a Zebra, a Lion, and other animals prance around, each with their own unique movement qualities and vocabularies. Intricately detailed costumes by Nadine Baylis only heighten the sense of wonder and whimsy.
Segments move fairly quickly and present exaggerated characters, both of which are vital in keeping young eyes engaged. Alice meets a Duchess with a frazzled Cook and a crying baby, narrates the Father William/Son interaction, and encounters the famous drug-induced Caterpillar. High-jumping Frog-Footmen appear, and the Cheshire Cat pops in and out a few times.
The narrative (a loose term, really, given that there’s not a heavy storyline) lingers on the butterflies and dragonflies as they perform more traditional ensemble choreography. With pristine timing and light-as-air allegros, the dancers swirl and glide across the stage with a supernatural ease. Alice even joins in the dance.
Act I closes with one of the signature moments from the story, the Mad Hatter (Alexander Kotelenets) and his tea party with the March Hare (Carl Coomer) and a delicate Dormouse (Allisyn Hsieh Caro). Hilarious shenanigans ensue, but the funniest happens when the Cheshire cat (Brett Young) returns to try and eat the Dormouse in an acrobatic duet.
Act II opens with the bizarre sea creature scene. Crustaceans in the desert? Sure, why not? This is all in Lewis Carroll’s book, after all.
Entering the garden of the Queen of Hearts introduces another traditional ballet segment, this one being the most Petipa-esque. Flowers come to life, as the corps maneuvers through a segment looking quite like Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers or Snow Scene. Leticia Oliveira (as a Tiger Lily) and Jiyan Dai (a Gardner) even deliver a grand pas de deux, with only a slight variation in the final coda. Delicate and luxurious partnering wows for the first segment, Dai demonstrates gravity-defying leaps for the second, and the third features Oliveira’s precise pointe work. Joining the couple for the fourth is the corps, which is a slight deviation, but fouette turns and pirouettes a la seconde find a familiar place.
At last we come to the Queen of Hearts (Paul Adams), who induces laughs from the first step on stage. An uproarious duet with the King (Philip Slocki) only continues the chuckles, then she places judgment on an accused thief (Jinchang Gu), whom Alice tries to save. All characters return for the courtroom scene, and as the dream ends, they all swirl together in a blur of color and chaos. The young girl awakes from her dream, closing the ballet as she opened it, with narration.
The addition of Alice’s spoken lines winds up being a mixed bag. Expression and annunciation are there, and while the accent goes in and out, overall Judson fares rather well with it, especially with the cadence that introduces the sea creatures. The use of text overall, though, seems to be another oddity, a novelty of an already whimsical show, rather than adding something significant to the performance.
Her acting and dancing are, as usual, playful, stunning, and simply wonderful. She truly has a ball with this role.
In general, adults shouldn’t think too hard on this one or compare it to any other adaptation of the story. Stevenson takes the whole “through the eyes of a child” thing seriously, but it pays off. Texas Ballet Theater creates a magnificent experience for children, especially with the 90-minute run-time. My seven-year-old was absolutely mesmerized throughout the performance, and when asked about her likes and dislikes, her response was, “Mommy, there wasn’t a single part in the ballet that wasn’t my favorite.”
» The performance is repeated at the Winspear Opera House in Dallas June 2-4; see www.TexasBalletTheater.org for tickets, which are $20-$115.25.