Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with Sarah Lamb, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2013

This cleverly whimsical ballet, reflecting the essence of Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece, provides stage magic for the whole family. You don’t need any experience of ballet to appreciate the various vignettes, including the Adagio for the Queen of Hearts and four playing cards in Act III, a wicked take on the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty. Itziar Mendizabal as the Queen played it to perfection, inspiring the audience to their biggest applause of the evening.

Dancers appear in the audience, all images ©ROH/ Johan Persson

Dancers appear in the audience, all images ©ROH/ Johan Persson

Yet the main applause must go to the pure refinement of Sarah Lamb’s Alice, who takes all the strange happenings with perfect equanimity. It all starts with a garden party, and when Lewis Carroll takes a flash photograph of her, the lighting changes dramatically, throwing the guests into an otherworldly aura, while Ricardo Cervera as Carroll opens a hole in the ground, and assuming the persona of the White Rabbit takes Alice into Wonderland. The other characters from the garden party reappear in various roles, with Federico Bonelli as Alice’s beloved Jack turning into the Knave of Hearts.

Alice and Jack

Alice and Jack

Act I is full of clever stage effects and video projections, and when Alice sticks her head through the little door to peep into the world beyond, colourful dancers suddenly appear in the audience. Act II contains one magical incident after another including the Cheshire Cat that decomposes and eventually reconstitutes itself as a single large face, the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the mushroom with a Caterpillar that later scurries off stage on multiple feet en pointe, and much more. Alexander Campbell, Thomas Whitehead and James Wilkie were superb as the Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse, and Gary Avis and Kristen McNally were terrific as the Duchess and the Cook in Act I, reappearing in an aggressive pas-de-deux in Act III.

Sarah Lamb was lovely in her final pas-de-deux with Bonelli in Act III, and the Company performed with precision and vivacity. Yes, it’s all nonsense, very different from the ethereal magic of Sleeping Beauty, but Christopher Wheeldon and his designer Bob Crowley have recognised the very different magic of Lewis Carroll, and created something fun for dancers and audience alike. Joby Talbot’s music, orchestrated jointly with Christopher Austin, is full of the atmosphere of a warm summer’s day at the right moments, as well as the staccato confusion of the characters in Alice’s dream, and this co-production with the National Ballet of Canada was very well conducted by David Briskin from that company.

Performances with various casts continue until April 13, with two Saturday matinees. All are sold out, but there is a live cinema screening on March 28 — for details click here.

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