Review: Royal Ballet - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Royal Opera House

Performance: 6 December 2014 - 16 January 2015
Reviewed by Claire Cohen - Monday 8 December 2014

Royal Ballet - 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland' Sarah Lamb as Alice ©ROH, Johan Persson, 2011.

Performance reviewed: 6 December

Is it a ballet or is it a variety show? It’s a question often asked about Christopher Wheeldon’s first full length commission for the Royal Ballet (and the company’s first in sixteen years) ever since it premiered in February 2011. Classical steps certainly underpin this charming version of Lewis Carroll’s well-loved story but a bit like the Cheshire Cat, the recognisable elements of ballet disappear and reappear throughout a shifting magical landscape. Upstaged by ingenious special effects, along with Bob Crowley’s stunning set design and vivid costumes, at times it seems as if the dancers’ main challenge is simply not to be eclipsed. Wheeldon does manage to maintain a balance though. Despite the crazily colourful scenes discovered by Alice as she tiptoes through Wonderland, the dancers hold their own, aided by Joby Talbot’s score, which assigns each character his or her own tune.

The feast of animated multimedia effects begins in Act 1 when Alice plays truant from her parents’ Oxford garden tea party to follow the White Rabbit down a hole, only to find herself in a spinning video vortex as she plunges downwards to Wonderland. As her adventures continue, a stream of technical wizardry throughout ensures that the production appeals to a far wider audience than that usually attracted to ballet. The disembodied Cheshire Cat and the twirling Caterpillar, both animated by a team of dancers, drew appreciative applause on the first night of this run and will doubtless do so again.

Sarah Lamb as Alice brought a touching teenage innocence to the fairy tale, her personality contrasting beautifully with the weird and wonderful characters she encountered. She danced so lightly she seems to float through the production, her animated facial expressions as she comes across a string of fantastical beasts and beings – some delightful, others horrifying – making her performance all the more enjoyable.

Cast as Jack/the Knave of Hearts, Vadim Muntagirov brought much-needed depth to the narrative as Alice’s love interest. Complicated lifts, masterfully executed in both pas de deux, immediately showed both dancers’ talent, but sadly the choreography doesn’t give them the opportunity to truly shine. Muntagirov’s potentially best moment was in Act 3, dancing a flowingly lyrical solo in the incongruous setting of the Wonderland courtroom to protest his innocence at stealing a plate of jam tarts. Yet it was the jam tarts which were central to the scene, not Muntagirov’s superb technique. He joined the Royal Ballet earlier this year having declared that he was looking forward to dancing on a bigger stage. He must have found it frustrating to stand in a witness box for ten minutes watching the Queen of Hearts and her minions cavort with the ‘evidence’.

Zenaida Yanowsky, whose mastery of a haughty demeanour and imperious stance make her an obvious choice for a female villain clearly delights in her role as the hideous Queen of Hearts. With her vamped-up character oscillating between pantomime and music hall, Yanowsky’s acting threatened to eclipse her dancing as she created a terrifying and spectacular figure.

In contrast, Ricardo Cervera brought the White Rabbit to life beautifully with nervously contained gestures and sharp footwork. The Mad Hatter, ably tap danced by Alexander Campbell, performed his routine engagingly on his own mini-stage, lavishly decorated with enchanting tea party paraphernalia.

The use of large scale multi media projections gives Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a filmic quality which should translate well to the big screen when it is relayed live to cinemas across the world on 16 December. And the Christmas festive season timing is perfect, as the parallels with pantomime are obvious.

Continues in rep at the Royal Opera House until 16 January. Return tickets only.
Live in cinemas on 16 December. Find a screening near you:

Main photo: Sarah Lamb as Alice by Johan Persson

Claire Cohen is a freelance dance writer. After attending ballet classes for adult beginners at English National Ballet she took part in their Dance is the Word workshop, fusing her writing skills with an enthusiasm for ballet and dance. Find her on Twitter @balletbichon

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