Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been my favourite book since childhood, and as a student of both literature and dance the concept of this first newly full-length commissioned work for the Royal Ballet in fifteen years is so exciting. The new fashion in entertainment and art for exposing the more sinister side of fairy tales would have been an easy trap to fall into here. However, this tour de force is an alluring circus of delight; the combination of Christopher Wheeldon’s Choreography, Bob Crowley’s design and Joby Talbot’s score is nothing less than spellbinding. Thank goodness someone finally appreciates the delicate innocence of Carroll’s work rather than simply claiming his brilliance to be a hallucinated world born of an opium trip! The joy of absurdity is truly celebrated in this worthy tribute to Carroll’s astoundingly intelligent Adventures in Wonderland.
Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is deliciously intriguing, seducing the viewer into Alice’s extraordinary journey. Lauren Cuthbertson (dancing Alice) is absolutely captivating, so expressive and stunningly talented whilst maintaining a spritely grace so apt to the character. The addition of a connection between Alice and the Jack of Hearts is an interesting way to add another layer to the story and make it current for older viewers, Wheeldon states that Alice is imagined about 15 years old, and although he has discussed the relationship as a friendship, the intimacy of the movement seems to suggest a more romantic leaning. As the work describes a journey for Alice from the naivety of childhood to the confusing madness of the adult world it does not seem out of place. A certain movement during one of their duets where Alice accidentally points to Jack’s crotch with the head of a flamingo being used as a croquet mallet may seem a little inappropriately sexual. However, it is saved by being dealt with coyly as a youthful accident and with humorous embarrassment. In all fairness it is not uncommon to see a more adult joke such as this in a fairy tale! For me, this thread of chasing after Jack throughout the story did draw a reference to Clara from Matthew Bourne’s Nutcracker. The similarities are numerous between the characters, not least their journey from Childhood to adulthood, and the sexual element, whilst prominent in the story of Nutcracker, seemed a touch needless in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as the text is not so suggestive of this. To add it does seem to be pandering somewhat to a need for a romance and therefore perverting the strength of Alice as a lone protagonist, and does rather take over at some points. Admittedly, it is enjoyable to follow their relationship, but its predictability doesn’t necessarily add to the eccentric quirkiness that sets Carroll’s text apart from others. This storyline does however provide a maturity to Alice’s character that sets it apart from the book and makes it current allowing the Ballet to be a contemporary version of the adventure in itself.
The depiction of the countless peculiar personalities is executed so imaginatively from all angles. Their movement, costume and characteristics are so delightfully idiosyncratic. Particular highlights include the caterpillar as an Arabian dancer and the tap dancing mad hatter! The use of Lewis Carroll as a character is another way that Wheeldon has managed to establish a separate identity for the Royal Ballet’s work from the book. It is also a very respectful way to show the importance of Carroll in this world of play and remind the audience whose brainchild the concept was. The quirky gentleman that Carroll has become in his dancing character rings true of the author’s eccentric grace and does him credit.
Expect a feast for the eyes in this festival of bizarre delights; whether on the stage or on the TV screen you will become enthralled in Alice’s epic journey and hardly be able to resist the utterance ‘Curiouser and curiouser’!