Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The Australian Ballet, with Orchestra Victoria. The Arts Centre Melbourne. 8 – 22 June 2019

Tonight was the 50th performance of Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Opening in Oxford in 1862, this balletic adaptation of the famous novel sticks closely to its original text. Alice, played by Principal Artist Ako Kondo and her sisters (Jill Ogai and Karen Nanasca) are being entertained by Lewis Carrol himself (Adam Bull). One by one the guests arrive for a party most played by Principal Artists.  It’s beautiful to be sure and promising of some wonderful dance to come. It’s unfortunate that the promise is not entirely delivered.

Alice’s Adventures is a difficult story to adapt, because the original text is in places so abstract that without spoken word, it is a mish-mash of imagery often seemingly bearing no relationship to what had come before.  Bob Crowley’s set and costume design are staggeringly beautiful, although one has to wonder what the purpose of intricate footwork is if the costume doesn’t allow the feet to be seen. This is ballet after all, so feet and legs are kind of important. Having said that, Crowley’s design is possibly the biggest highlight of the show. It is amplified by Natasha Katz original lighting design, reproduced by Graham Silver.  Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington have created some lovely projection design and Toby Olie’s puppetry is engaging.

Ako Kondo is absolutely the star of this show, light and lithe, powerful and beautiful.  Given that Kondo is on the stage for the majority of the show’s Three Act’s, the level of stamina she shows is gobsmacking. She is a poised, graceful and technically flawless at the end as she was at the beginning.  Adam Bull gives the White Rabbit lots of hops and foot stomping but it feels like a lost opportunity for some powerful jumping. Similarly Andrew Killian shows his flexibility as the Caterpillar but is underutilized as a dancer here. It’s not their fault of course, they are impeccable in their execution of the choreography, it’s just that the choreography isn’t that inspiring.  Possibly the most spectacular dance moments of the entire show actually come from Jarryd Madden and his tap dancing Mad Hatter. His taps are clear and crisp, showing a different side to this talented dancer.

Don’t get me wrong, this is an entertaining evening. One does have to question the wisdom of what is ostensibly a children’s ballet coming in at 2 hours and 40 minutes.  There were certainly many overly long sections where this ballet could be made more manageable. If you are looking for a magnificently choreographed ballet that allows its dancers to soar and shine, this probably isn’t for you. If you are looking for an entertaining spectacle, check it out.

L.B.Bermingham

Photographer: Jeff Busby

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