Alice Dances! QB's 'Alice in Wonderland'
Felicity Meakins
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Queensland Ballet, 1-18 March 2000; Artistic Director: François Klaus
14 Mar. 2000
  The Queensland Ballet, as both a classical and contemporary company, has been transformed successfully since François Klaus took over as Artistic Director. The standard and repertoire of this company has both improved and expanded in the eyes of many critics. This year's bill promises to cater for many tastes with performances of classics such as Giselle to please the mass audience; and a version of Nijinsky's The Rite of Spring; and Klaus' own Passion to attract followers of less traditional dance. To begin the year, QB has chosen to convert Alice's Adventures in Wonderland into dance.
  The 'Alice' books, written by Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson) are a text analyst's dream in their ability to be understood on many different levels. They were originally written as a fantastic tale for a young girl, Alice Liddell, of whom Carroll became quite fond (a little too fond, some would say), yet they also indulged his own passions as a priest and mathematician. The greater body of Carroll's work includes problems in logic and semantics (see Mark Gardner's The Universe in a Handkerchief) and these themes have been interspersed throughout Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass. Indeed linguistic analyses take a particular interest in the tête-à-tête between Alice and the oddball characters that she meets along the way. For example, the White Queen seems intent on misinterpreting Alice's use of the word 'flour/flower' which raises poignant questions for lexical semantics. These books have also provoked interesting feminist and psychoanalytic readings of Alice's character in relation to Carroll's own person. The result has been a thoughtful adventure story that can be appreciated by a wide audience of children and adults.
  Queensland Ballet's version of Alice in Wonderland, which includes parts of Alice through the Looking Glass, chooses to concentrate on the fantastic and surrealistic and does not tap into any of these more scintillating readings of Alice. The stage design (Richard Jeziorny), initially composed of checked tiled floors with skewed perspectives and unexpectedly different sized doors, lent itself well to this surrealist mode. The costumes (Richard Jeziorny) also added well to Alice's fantasy. They followed the original illustrations quite closely, adding colour and a certain amount of creativity to the black and white sketches. For instance, the oysters in 'The Walrus and the Carpenter' were attached to the dancers' ankles with the rest of their bodies obscured by a seaside backdrop. The effect had the audience in stitches. Other successful additions to the costumes and props were the White Rabbit's skateboard, and the remote control baby pig that was accompanied by giggles from the audience. In fact it seems to have been the original costuming decisions, the creative additions, which were most obviously appreciated by the crowd. However, in concentrating on the visual elements of this story, much of the richness of Alice and her dialogue with the characters she meets and indeed their personality traits are lost, perhaps inevitably as the focus is shifted from a language to a movement genre. And so in QB's version, Alice becomes a nicer young girl than Carroll envisaged, who isn't intent on arguing with, for example, Humpty Dumpty when he informs her that her name is stupid because it doesn't mean anything. Instead Alice becomes a child lost in an extraordinary world, the dreamscape of Carroll, which is strange and perplexing to this young girl. The young girl playing Alice in this performance (Courtney Poulier) carried this character well in her dancing and acting. Unfortunately, the other dancers did not produce some of the eccentricities and peculiarities of the other characters at all well. There were notable exceptions such as the Queen of Hearts (Victoria Hollyman) and the King of Hearts (Shane Weatherby), but other potentially individual personalities, such as the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse, were disappointingly mundane. Some of the characters were simply inexplicable. For instance, the supposedly violent stand off between the Unicorn and Lion seemed to contain more sexual tension than an early episode of the X-Files. This lack of character was perhaps due to the occasionally uninteresting choreography though there were fascinating moments, for instance, the caterpillar, oysters and the court football game.
  But it is easy to be harsh about any version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as each person enters into a renditon with their own version of what is important in this story. In the end, it is better to consider the intention of the artistic director, in this case François Klaus, who was aiming to appeal to a child's imagination and their idea of pleasure (the lollipops accompanying the programmes were a dead give-away). This ballet is not for those who wish to appreciate the subtleties and cleverness of Alice. It is for children who appreciate spectacle. Indeed the stage craft, direction and costuming seemed to fulfil Klaus's intention satisfyingly. And if the children's smiles were to be the measure of its success -- their grins were, well, much like a Cheshire cat's.

Alice in Wonderland, based on Lewis Carroll's well-known Alice stories.
Queensland Ballet, 1-18 March 2000.
Artistic Director: François Klaus.
Set and Costume: Richard Jeziorny.
Lighting Design: Glenn Hughs.

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Queensland Ballet
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
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