Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Ballet, Alice (in Wonderland)

On Sunday afternoon, May 22, we went to the Marcus Center to see Alice (in Wonderland), a story ballet choreographed by Septime Webre, with music by Matthew Pierce.

The story is largely based on the familiar Lewis Carroll story, with observable influences from the Royal Ballet version, specifically the prolog with Alice's family; and the recent Tim Burton movie, in which Alice slays the Jabberwock.

The ballet opens with Alice (Alana Griffith) drowsing in an armchair on an otherwise bare and colorless stage. She awakens and performs a short, poignant, pas d'ane. Then, things get chaotic as members of her family and household enter: annoying sisters (Valerie Harmon, Itzel Hernandez), domineering mother (Susan Gartell), absent-minded father (Patrick Howell), dotard grandfather (Marc Petrocci), somnolent grandmother (Lahna Vanderbush), and put-upon butler (Parker Brasser-Vos). All of these appear later as wonderland characters. Then Lewis Carroll (Alexandre Ferreira) enters and sets up for a family portrait photograph. As the picture is taken, lights change and the White Rabbit (Brasser-Vos) enters and invites Alice down the "rabbit hole," in this case portrayed as a giant keyhole.

After a falling scene cleverly done with both "flying" effects and puppetry, Alice lands in the hall of doors, which involves some clever choreography with the doors and gremlin-like beings that control them. Alice's growing was also neatly done, as she raised up on the flying wires, her skirt lengthening, eventually revealing another dancer's feet below.

There are a lot of scenes and characters, so I'm not going to go over all of them. All were very good, but particularly notable were Davit Hovhannisyan as the Dodo, dancing very powerfully and athletically; Garret Glassman and Marc Petrocci as the Fish Footman and the Frog Footman, who dance a fun, bluesy pas de tres with Alice; Timothy O'Donnell and Barry Molina as the Duchess and her Cook, who have a duet where the Duchess assumes the "male" role, lifting and twirling the Cook; and Marize Fumaro as the Caterpillar, who worked in remarkable concert with the "Guys in White" (characters, eventually "cards", who do scene shifting and other character support) who lift and move her body through the sinuous movements of the Caterpillar; and James Gilmer as the Cheshire Cat, who performed a jazzy, seductive dance with Alice.

Speaking of seduction brings up the character of the Queen of Hearts, danced with great power by Susan Gartell. This character is both sexual and dangerous. In her earlier appearances, she wields a riding crop while being carried around by bare-chested Guys in White, and sometimes literally using them as stair steps. This makes one wonder if there isn't supposed to be a bit of an "Electra complex" going on between Alice and her mother, which is a bit jarring in what's otherwise presented as a very child-friendly ballet. (Young members of the Ballet School make delightfully cute appearances as baby flamingos (inevitably parodying the "Dance of the Cygnets"), piglets, cards, and hedgehogs.)

In the second act, the Queen's croquet game goes badly when the Queen loses, blaming the hedgehogs. Alice intervenes to save them, but is forced to flee into the forest. The Queen unleashes the Jabberwock to hunt her, which is a wonderful large puppet. Alice slays it with the help of The Mad Hatter (Mr. Ferreira) and Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee (Mr. Glassman and Mr. Petrocci), and a Vorpal Sword found conveniently to hand. Alice and friends are rounded up by the card soldiers to confront the angry Queen, at which point Alice realizes they are only cards. The other characters disappear, and Alice awakes in her chair at home.

The structure of the ballet is a somewhat uncomfortable fusion between "classical" ballet and story ballet. (We are somewhat spoiled by Michael Pink's smooth transitions and through-composed choreography.) Quite a few scenes just end, with no intervening action. When characters are done with a solo, they frequently just leap off into the wings and vanish. The large dance number for the corps, semi-obligatory for classical ballet, was inserted as a lengthy dance after the Caucus Race, with the dancers costumed as Flamingos, which don't appear in Carroll until the Croquet Game. This dance did nothing to advance the story, and could have been shorter with no loss.

It was nice that the composer, Matthew Pierce, not only attended, but conducted the Milwaukee Ballet Orchestra and played solo violin as well. The score was pleasant to listen to, although I recall it as being mainly rhythmic accompaniment for dancing, with nothing in the way of memorable tunes.

The costumes, by Liz Vandal were fantastical and attractive. One curious thing was that the Flamingo dancers head pieces had the beaks on backward, but that was the only really strange detail.

Criticisms aside, we enjoyed this ballet very much. It was both beautiful and amusing to watch and listen to, and we were very glad to have seen it.

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