Living up to the hype is never an easy task. Ballet fans have been excited about Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland since the Australian Ballet first announced it late last year. First performed by Britain’s Royal Ballet, it employs projections and puppetry to bring to life Lewis Carroll’s legendary, psychedelic adventure.
The good news is Alice has been well worth the wait. It’s a glorious spectacle: inventive, hypnotic and tirelessly entertaining.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
- Arts Centre Melbourne
- Until September 30, tickets $82-$256
We begin in a garden party at Alice’s Victorian country home, where our young heroine (played on opening night by Ako Kondo) bestows one of her mother’s jam tarts on handsome groundskeeper Jack (Ty-King Wall). Accused of stealing, Jack is struck off. Distraught, Alice is led down a somewhat unconventional rabbit hole in pursuit of her beau. Surreal adventures ensue, culminating in her rescuing Jack (now the Knave of Hearts) from the deliciously evil Red Queen (Amy Harris).
There’s an appealing echo of The Wizard of Oz in the way that the Wonderland characters echo their real world counterparts, beginning with the transformation of Alice’s photographer friend (possibly Carroll himself) into the white rabbit. This playfulness gives shape to a narrative that might otherwise dissolve into an assembly of freaky episodes.
Transformation is key here. We marvel as a life-size puppet of Alice tumbles down a projected rabbit hole and as clever staging allows her to swell and diminish in size – or flood a room with an ocean of her tears. Rug pulls and curtain lifts make for a breathless and breathtaking journey from one improbable setting to the next. It’s terrific, hypnotic fun, enhanced by a jaunty, slightly off-kilter score from composer Joby Talbot.
There are moments when the spectacle threatens to smother the artistry. Indeed, at times it is almost possible to forget that you’re watching a ballet. While the balletics are impressive throughout, it isn’t really until the final act that the footwork is more mesmeric than the stagecraft. Liberated from her mobile throne, the Red Queen steals the show with a deceptively brilliant, exquisitely skilful and fantastically funny display of bad dancing.
Still, there are worse quibbles than having to rank an embarrassment of riches. This is a glorious, suitably magical production guaranteed to transfix all – even those who think they don’t like ballet. One of the absolute highlights of this year’s cultural calendar, it shouldn’t be missed. Melbourne fans should move fast – the season is rapidly approaching sell out.