We know that the Royal Ballet’s dancers are exceptional, we’ve seen that the designs and lighting are magical, but the jury is still out on whether Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland satisfies as a theatrical piece.
Clement Crisp’s final paragraph from his Financial Times review of the current run was,
But for all the unflagging energies, physical and emotional, that its cast brings to the choreography, this is a game of “keep it moving and they won’t see the holes”. And the holes – the coarse score, the blustering, false drama – are too large to disguise.
Which he’d already spotted on its first outing,
I was less than enraptured by this blatant affair at its creation last year. In its current revival certain changes have been made – significantly in splitting an interminable first act into two – but the sum effect is still of blazing misconceptions in supposing that such a narrative can admit of translation into movement. Carroll’s verbal conceits, the Victorian social attitudes that clothe surreal fantasy, the central image of a little girl having a Senior Wrangler’s assurance – all these have no dance identity, and Alice herself is aged by 10 years to become a pubescent heroine.
Judith Flanders for The Arts Desk was thinking along the same lines,
If you like video tricks, dazzling projections, special effects and Uncle-Tom-Cobbleigh-and-all, then this Alice in Wonderland is for you. If, however, you want a dance-drama, well, you’re out of luck.
A seasoned dramaturg would have told him his choice of story had doomed him to this, since Alice in Wonderland is not, properly speaking, a novel at all, with rounded characters, or anything as eccentric as a plot. Instead it is a picaresque, with a single character moving from scene to scene, each designed merely to answer the question, And then? And then? So poor, perky Lauren Cuthbertson bourées and arabesques without focus between groups of people who have no interest in her, or in each other, at all.
Damningly she concludes,
Wheeldon does not appear to know how to use dance to tell a story.
So the real problem for the dissenters is putting Carroll’s wordplay on a stage which contains only music and movement.
Wheeldon’s Alice wrestles to create a coherent plot from Carroll’s surreal progression of incidents,
says The Independent‘s Zoe Anderson, and so she too has to conclude,
This Alice is a fine spectacle, but a thin ballet.
Then there are the critics on the other side of the fence. As The Telegraph‘s Mark Monahan admits,
It is still, inevitably, at the mercy of its source material’s episodic structure.
but says the ballet is
… a response to Lewis Carroll’s writing that had just the right crazy glint in its eye. And in this revival, almost exactly one year on, it is looking better yet.
A craftsmanlike piece of dance and great, giddy, fun for young and old, and Wheeldon has now altered it intelligently, too. Besides a lovely new coup de théâtre in Act 1, he has also split that overlong first act in two. This means that ‘Alice’ is now in three acts, and therefore – because of the extra interval – a longer evening. And yet, sawing the previously 70-minute first act in half has had the counter-intuitive effect of speeding up the show, besides which, so silky are the visual and musical dissolves between vignettes that, despite the “and then, and then, and then” narrative, there is a considerable sense of flow.
Only a year after its creation, Christopher Wheeldon’s spectacular Royal Ballet treat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, has returned to the Opera House in a blaze of colour and dazzlement.
He loves the music too, “an outstanding achievement of the ballet”, and although he feels
The use of so many characters and episodes from Lewis Carroll’s book results in a disjointed, hectic pace.
With so many delights, this production has doubtless earned a long life in the Covent Garden repertory.
Dougill’s colleague Donald Hutera over at The Times loved the evening too,
This all-ages spectacle is such a carefully and imaginatively crafted delight.
It’s official: the Royal Ballet has a perennial hit on its hands.
But no one had any doubts about the company’s dancers. Here’s a sample,
- Lauren Cuthbertson is “a bright, breezy, effervescent Alice”, “engaging, resilient and versatile”, “a lissom charmer” – Cuthbertson catches the irrepressible, wayward spirit of Alice in every gesture.
- Federico Bonelli (replacing Sergei Polunin), dashing in both senses – Federico Bonelli dances the Jack of Hearts with such grace and good humour that you don’t miss Sergei Polunin one bit. – Bonelli is a fine Knave, softer in his leaps and a more sympathetic partner to Cuthbertson than Sergei Polunin.
- Gary Avis gave the Duchess a vicious bravura.
- Laura Morera’s wittily horrible Queen.
- Eric Underwood is voluptuously slithery as the Caterpillar.
- Steven McRae’s deranged, tap-dancing Mad Hatter
- Edward Watson is irrepressibly agile and worried as the White Rabbit.
Photo: Steven McRae as the Mad Hatter, by Johan Persson/ROH
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.