Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s book, has grown up in many and marvellous ways. The full-length ballet now playing at London’s Royal Opera House brings Alice and her adventures to the stage in an updated but faithful rendition of the characters and madcap action of the original. Alice is older, but not too old, and the mix of comedy and fantasy, the stuff of dreams and nightmares that has fascinated generations of children, is brought to vibrant life once again.
Christopher Wheeldon, the ballet’s choreographer, told BBC News that as a child, he didn’t really like the story but loved the way it allowed children to “conjure up images”. Wheeldon has certainly conjured up some incredible images, and brought them to us in a spectacular display of talent and imagination. Lauren Cuthbertson is Alice, and she is fully into the role, dancing through the opening scenes in Victorian Oxford and right down the rabbit hole as her guest for tea, Edward Watson as Lewis Carroll, turns into a White Rabbit.
From that point the action is non-stop, with magnificent performances by such as Steven McRae as the Mad Hatter, Simon Russell Beale as the Duchess, Sergei Polunin as the gardener’s son/Knave of Hearts, and Zenaida Yanowsky as the hysterical and villainous Queen of Hearts. The score by Joby Talbot is next to perfect for the rather mad pace of the action; with his background in movie scores, Talbot has done a fabulous job in the transition to ‘ballet music’.
There are so many stunning moments in the production that it’s hard to keep track, but the headfirst fall into Wonderland, the magically disembodied Cheshire Cat and the beautifully choreographed pas de deux with Alice and the Knave of Hearts are a few of the high points in a ‘wonderland’ of high points. This is ballet for the audience of today, and it works very well indeed.