Richardson — A bench, four dancers, a projection of a small yet intricate painting of a cottage and a nine-piece orchestra situated to the right of the audience set the scene Saturday evening for Avant Chamber Ballet’s first full-length ballet, Alice in Wonderland, at the Eisemann Center for Performing Arts in Richardson. At first the show’s minimal use of scenery and props was surprising, but ultimately it opened the door (or rabbit hole) for ACB to showcase its effortless classical technique and solid pointe work.
The first half of the show is very character-driven; a feat that comes naturally to most of the dancers. Artistic Director Katie Puder enhances these roles with innovative individualized movements and subtle gestures. Madelaine Boyce was the obvious choice to play Alice due to her physical resemblance, but her ethereal facial expressions and youthful energy also proved her deserving of the lead role. Her solos were punctuated with elongated lines, sturdy pique arabesque holds and soaring grande jetes. As the White Rabbit Juliann Hyde was only on stage long enough to capture Alice’s attention before checking her pocket watch then executing a double knee jump into the wings.
Once Alice falls down the rabbit hole she encounters a quirky group of characters, including Tweedle Dee and Dum, the Caterpillar, Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, March Hare, Dormouse and finally the Queen of Hearts. Meanwhile the projection image has changed to depict a vibrant garden. As the background color changes, signaling a new character’s arrival, the eye is drawn back to the projection where the color change highlights a different floral color, creating the illusion that the picture has changed.
This part of the show is reminiscent of the scene in The Nutcracker in which representatives from each country come forward to perform a cultural dance. While their timing was a little off, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (Kayla Giard and Emily Igoe) catered to the younger audience members with their combative antics and over-the-top acting skills. Long and lean, Dallas Blagg had the right look for the Caterpillar. His solo was the most technically challenging with multiple turning double tours into consecutive grande jetes. Bryan Cunningham was a commanding presence in his role as the Mad Hatter and Brittany Bollinger’s over exaggerated gestures and expressions as the March Hare made up for some of the timidness displayed by other company members. In one instance the music, which was composed by artist-in-residence Chase Dobson, seemed to overpower Rachel Meador’s (Cheshire Cat) movements.
The second half contained what was missing in the first—group dance sequences and dancer Yulia Ilina. As the Queen of Hearts Ilina stole the show with her impeccable pointe work, regal pose and authentic character embodiment. Audiences were riveted to her long legs, supple feet and strong upper body frame. When she gets angry with Alice during the croquet match she visibly tenses; her movement slow and deliberate as she runs her finger across her neck and points at Alice. I don’t know if it was Ilina’s energy or the dancers overcoming their jitters, but the whole cast transformed during the second half. Meador grew more confident and started playing with the audience as she sneaked around the stage. Jumps appeared higher, arms reaching farther as the music swelled and peaked.
Puder’s penchant for uniformed body angles, visually pleasing shapes and clean pointe work was present throughout the program, but especially in the flowers and deck of cards numbers. This also applied to the younger cast members. Dressed up as mushrooms, these little ones earn bonus points for straightening behind the knees and pointing their toes. The whole company comes together for the cleverly-crafted trial scene where each character describes their encounters with Alice before the Queen of Hearts. Chaos quickly ensues and Alice is able to slip away and follow the White Rabbit home.
The live orchestration, exceptional technique and crisp choreography showcased in Alice in Wonderland is what viewers have come to expect from Avant Chamber Ballet and what we hope to see more of in the future.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com
» Photos copyright Sharen Bradford of The Dancing Image