Joby TALBOT (b.1971)
Alice in Wonderland - ballet (2011)
Alice - Lauren Cuthbertson
Jack/The Knave of Hearts - Sergei Polunin
Lewis Carroll/The White Rabbit - Edward Watson
Mother/The Queen of Hearts - Zenaida Yanowsky
Mad Hatter - Steven Macrae
The Duchess - Simon Russell Beale
Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Barry Wordsworth
rec. Covent Garden, London, March 2011
Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
16:9 aspect; Stereo + dts sound.
OPUS ARTE OA1056D [120:00 + 30:00]

What a treat this is - such an imaginative treatment of a favourite story. There are extraordinary, eccentric sets and special effects; colourful, larger-than-life, argumentative characters and extraordinary costumes. The use of video projections, supplementing stage-set mechanicals provides the necessary magical transformations including Alice’s journey down into Wonderland, and her sudden changes of size to fit through a series of doorways. Equally awesome are the realisations of Wonderland’s menagerie including the giant Cheshire Cat, its realistic supple movements accomplished by a team of animators using a similar sort of mechanical magic that made War Horse so realistic.
Alice is cast as a slightly older girl than Lewis Carroll would have imagined. She is a young teenage girl poised on the brink of womanhood, her maturing nicely conveyed as she is ‘awakened’ by the romancing of The Knave of Hearts - danced sprightly by Sergei Polunin. The ballet opens as her family gather for tea in the garden of their substantial country house. Lauren Cuthbertson, as Alice, is excellent, her every movement suggesting the actions and emotions of this curious, spirited pre-adolescent.
Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography is very imaginative and fitting for every character. Besides Alice, the eccentric contortions and threatening figures created for the Red Queen - Zenaida Yanowsky constantly twisting in seemingly impossible positions - underline her unfortunate disposition beautifully. There is room also for the buffoonery of The Duchess splendidly played by Simon Russell Beale who is no stranger to such roles ever since his portrayal of Kenneth Widmerpool in the TV adaptation of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time. The corps de ballet shine, their playing-cards scene quite ingenious and splendidly danced.
Joby Talbot’s glittering, colourful, percussive music, although not as memorable, for its own sake, as that from some classical ballets (which this is not) is entirely fitting for this story of sublime eccentricities.

The DVD is available in a Blu-ray alternative format and there is a very helpful documentary, ‘Being Alice’, that traces the development of the ballet and covers its choreography, set and costume designs and lighting.
An entrancing new look at the story of Alice in Wonderland which will certainly figure in my 2012 recordings of the year choice.  

Ian Lace

An entrancing new look at the story of Alice in Wonderland.