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
Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon
Orchestra of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden/Barry Wordsworth
rec. Covent Garden, London, March 2011
16:9 aspect; Stereo + dts sound.
OPUS ARTE OA1056 D [120:00 + 30:00]  

It is a brave company that is prepared to take such a surrealist novel and turn it into a stage show. Where film can provide the visual trickery necessary to give visual magic, theatre machinery is cumbersome and pedantic in comparison. Yet the development of technical resources and video projection can help. With ballet, a large part of the stage must be kept free of obstructions to allow ballet routines to progress unimpeded. 
To then faithfully transfer to a video medium without high level on-line visual trickery may not ideally help the viewer. So how then has Covent Garden fared in bringing about a stimulating production?
Very well, in fact. The prologue where Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is taking photographs of the family group works excellently. It is set in a realistic deanery garden. Bob Crowley’s backdrop painting in faded Victorian hues is in keeping. In this opening scene we are introduced to the personalities that later appear as stereotypes in the fantasy world Alice uncovers. The only odd thing in a private deanery garden is having a nurse wheel a perambulator across the stage as if in a busy street.
Some of the settings contain more subtlety than might at first sight be noticed. Monotone backdrops, the Cheshire Cat and a paper boat are styled on the engravings found in Carroll’s first edition book. As the ballet progresses the settings become more flamboyant and graphically modern.
Particularly stunning is the Playing Cards scene. Choreography and costumes strike just the right note. A clever routine with a segmented Cheshire Cat allows believable animation.
As one might expect, the dancing is up to the exacting standards of the corps with a Covent Garden reputation. The problem of having Alice change size was well contrived and Lauren Cuthbertson’s acting is excellent. The character of the White Rabbit is extremely officious throughout I noticed, yet pales before the bombastic pomp of the Queen of Hearts (Zenaida Yanowsky).
The orchestra plays well under the secure direction of Barry Wordsworth, a conductor not seen enough of nowadays. Talbot’s music has facets of talent and although classical harmony is mainly maintained, it is heavy, strongly percussive and is often reminiscent of the fight scene of West Side Story. One could hardly call the music melodious which is a pity as it misses out in appealing to the younger generation for whom the story is intended. I find the scoring unnecessarily heavy and is an ill fit with the elegance of classical ballet choreography.
The DVD is divided into play chapters, and contains a gallery photographs of the key dancers. It has the bonus of a well compiled and informative BBC documentary ‘Being Alice’. In it we see the planning, realisation and execution of the staging through the eyes of the principal dancer, Lauren Cuthbertson. Subtitles are provided in English, French, German and Spanish. In-depth background production notes with synopsis by David Nice are written in English, French and German.
Raymond J Walker 

A stimulating production.