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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
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Lewis Carroll's ever-popular story provides the basis for Christopher Wheeldon's spectacular new work, starring Royal Ballet Principal Lauren Cuthbertson. Captivating designs by Bob Crowley, an engaging and passionate score by Joby Talbot, and Wheeldon's breathtaking choreography combine to produce in the words of The Times "spectacular family entertainment brought to life with enormous theatrical verve."Press Reviews
"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. 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." (Musicweb International)
Lauren Cuthbertson (Alice)
Sergei Polunin (Jack / The Knave of Hearts)
Edward Watson (Lewis Carroll/ The White Rabbit)
Zenaida Yanowsky (Mother / The Queen of Hearts)
Steven Macrae (Mad Hatter)
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Barry Wordsworth
Company: The Royal Ballet
Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon
Catalogue Number: OA1056D
Date of Performance: 2011
Running Time: 120 minutes
Sound: 2.0LPCM + 5.1(5.0) DTS
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic
Subtitles: EN, FR, DE, ES
Label: Opus Arte
...a monumental achievement. This production has to be the best dance adaptation of Lewis Carroll's beloved children's classic on the planet. --The Globe and Mail
Top Customer Reviews
Since Balanchine's death in April 1983 no choreographer has emerged to unambiguously don the mantle of genius. That may weigh heavily in Homans' calculations of ballet's future prospects. What we have had are glimpses of new styles of dance, of pastiche ballets, of a new irreverence that upends ballet's history. That playfulness that we signify as irreverence often toys with our expectations of what we think are the genuine artistic pretensions of modern dance versus what are merely a form of glamorous kitsch in motion. Mark Morris' ingenious and witty 1991 version of The Nutcracker, "The Hard Nut", is a landmark representative of several of these trends and the very embodiment of the new playfulness.
With the 2011 premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, based on Lewis Carroll's children's book for grown-ups, the various recent trends in ballet have been united in a masterful souffle. Instantly and dramatically obvious is that Alice is only possible in our multimedia era. And because of Alice's complexity, its presentation is unthinkable without access to robust computer technology. It features stunning stage designs, a barrage of kaleidoscopic scenery, gigantic three-dimensional human puppetry, film, video, shadow plays, trompe l'oeil imagery, urban architecture, landscapes, gardens, human hedgehogs and flamingos, imaginative costumes, hand puppets, dancers and an orchestra. Uniting these disparate elements must have been difficult.
Wheeldon's choreography - with its sly historic allusions to choreographers such as Martha Graham, Balanchine and (inevitably) Mark Morris, athletic or elegant dance moves created by Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, absolutely stunning tap dancing, the over-ripe glamour of Las Vegas show girls, Hip-Hop, ballroom dancing and disco - is endlessly inventive. Yet despite this rainbow of dance elements, Alice never feels like a pastiche. It is always an organic whole. Alice's choreography is spirited and fun and always a joy to watch. Especially remarkable are Lauren Cuthbertson's Alice (she dances the entire 70 minute first act, a test of endurance that leaves her with several large, angry looking bruises and scrapes) and Zenaida Yanowsky's deliriously funny Queen of Hearts. All of the dancers are superb, exemplifying why the Royal Ballet maintains such a high reputation.
Joby Talbot's music is distinctive and often quite beautiful. It contains elements reminiscent of Stravinsky, the British Pastoral composers, Brian Easdale's lovely score for the Red Shoes ballet, the film music of John Williams and Minimalist composers like John Adams. What it most definitely is not is a traditional ballet score as composed by Delibes or Tchaikovsky. Those who expect such a conservative score are advised to stick with their ballets. The set, scenic and costume design are all exemplary with work of the highest imaginative force and arresting visual beauty. Alice is a veritable feast for the eyes.
The Opus Arte Blu-Ray disc is a technical marvel of sound and image. The music is presented in 2-channel lossless DTS-HD Master Audio and is crystalline in its resolution and beauty of sound. The 1080i video is color saturated and lovely to see. What some reviewers have complained about, and a viewpoint I share to some degree, is the shot selection by the cameras. Much of Alice is filmed at middle distance or even further away with fairly frequent cutaways. I suspect this may have something to do with the large, crimson bruise that Lauren Cuthbertson suffered on her shoulder during the ballet. Cuthbertson never exhibits any discomfort (she is a consummate professional) but it cannot have been easy for her to dance so energetically hampered as she was. The director may have been compensating on the fly in order to minimize showing the injury to his star as she danced in every scene of the first act.
Alice suggests that ballet may be morphing into something new: a multimedia presentation incorporating imaginative use of all of the visual and motion arts. This may be where the genius of ballet will settle in the future. If so, ballet isn't dying; it is undergoing a metamorphosis into an entirely new vision of dance. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, with all of its humor and beauty and complexity, may be remembered as the first masterpiece of an emerging genre of ballet. And it helps make the future of ballet look a bit less bleak to those who love the dance.
So why just 4 stars?
The Plus Points:
1. Almost all the characters in the ballet have a significant role to play dance-wise. The story offers such a bevy of diverse characters, and each have been portrayed rather competently, with something for everyone on the stage.
2. Nice innovations within the ballet, especially for the Tap Dancing Mad Hatter, a brilliant move that brings out the character of the Mad Hatter in to the dance form beautifully. The role of the Duchess has been performed by the 'imported' theater personality brilliantly. The Pax de Deux in the ballet are simply superb, both dance and music-wise, and this is where Cuthbertson and Polunin are at their very best. The parody within the ballet, - a take off on Aurora's birthday party dance by Tchaikovsky is quite very apt and beautifully choreographed and executed.
3. Sets, Lighting and special effects lift this ballet to the 21st century, and an indication of the the shape of things to come... Excellently shot video too.
4. Well performed and recorded music.
A Neutral Point to Ponder:
According to me, whether a ballet becomes a 'classic' or falls by the wayside or into an occasionally performed piece is solely dependent on the strength of its music. The more successful productions of the ROH have had excellent music to support the dances. In Mayerling, it was the music of Liszt... For La Fille mal Gardee, it became a success by adding on the music of Rossini, Donizetti, Pugni and possibly others to the original fare of Ferdinand Herold. I must point out that a European production of the La fille mal Gardee with ONLY the music of Ferdinand Herold is almost forgotten today on stage.
Kenneth Macmillan survived beautifully thanks to Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Joplin etc, but one of his greatest choreographic successes is not so popular because the music is not as endearing as in the others... I am referring to 'Judas Tree' - music by Brian Elias.
Some other ballets well choreographed and danced that have not become classics owing to 'ho-hum' music lines are those like the 'Prince of the Pagodas', and possibly 'Ondine'. Outside England, 'Fillet du Pharon' also seems to be falling into this category, as indeed, La Sylphide, one of the first ever full length ballets. Other examples of such 'failures' even in Bolshoi is 'Anyuta' (music of Gavrilov), some ballets with music of Asafiev and more than 90% of the ballets scored by mid or late 20th century composers in France and Germany among others.
In Alice, the music is clearly quite novel and different from those above that have experimented with new composers for full length ballets. However successful Wheeldon is in his choreography, the years ahead will determine if Talbot's score becomes popular enough for this ballet to be called or deemed a classic. If one were to read the musical background of Talbot, it becomes very clear that he did what he does best... score for the cinema and video. Many a time, especially in the first half, the music tends to be something of a cross between Mussorgsky (reminding one of the 'Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks' variety) and something that John Williams kept writing for a space adventures... with some influence and covert references to or from Minkus, Saint-Saens and Prokofiev too, and even Stravinsky. The music may aptly be described as an apotheosis of the percussion, and it keeps tingling in the brain long after the ballet is finished. Some bits of the ballet however, stand out, especially in the richly orchestrated dances and waltzes that do not give the overwhelming prominence to Percussion, although some others like the Catterpillar's dance is more of an anachronism in musical caricaturization. The Pax de Deux - all of them stand out beautifully too....
The Obvious Cons:
1. The ballet itself : If one were to take away the sets and the lighting and other 21st century effects, what remains is an exercise in choreographing over 30 individual dance pieces - with not much continuity from dance to dance. Nothing very great about the routine choreography either. One has to identify the characters through the costumes, and not the dance per se, with the brilliant exception of the Mad Hatter and the Duchess.
2. The First Act is just too lugubrious at times and sometimes too 'ponder-some' in all three departments, music, dance and choreography.There is not much of a development. It IS slightly boring at times. But the second act is a total lifesaver for the entire production. Quite a contrast.
3. There are some idiosyncrasies in the beginning of the first act as well as the ending. One reviewer has already pointed it out, the scene that leads up to the whole 'hole' scene, as well as the incongruity of the mobile phone and the camera in the 1842 settings to start with and end with..... Did Alice and her boyfriend get transported through time to 2011? But thank god that these stupidities introduced (for no real purpose in the ballet or the story) are limited only to those short scenes.
All in all, I would recommend the purchase of this blu ray. I think the music, however I may have described its possible fate in the future, is quite instantly appealing, and the whole narration of the story in ballet is quite superb. I am not surprised that no other composer or producer of the 19th or 20th century thought of producing a ballet on Alice... the right effects may have been rather difficult, and so also the music for those times.
YES, it is a great beginning to the ballet for the 21st century... A very honest and sparkling effort.
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