★★★★★ - Irresistible
Nevada Ballet Theatre’s extraordinary presentation of Septime Webre’s “Alice (in Wonderland)” was a euphoric storybook dream that had me grinning like a Cheshire cat on opening night at the Smith Center. High-art with a whimsical pop-art flair, the intoxicating performances, elegant designs, and lush music played by a live orchestra appealed to the senses, and the nostalgia and humor of the piece made the experience all the more fulfilling for children and adults alike.
Based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and 1871 “Through the Looking Glass,” choreographer Webre (who rehearsed performers along with répétiteurs Johanna Wilt, Jared Nelson, and Morgann Rose) added a prologue to his 2012 reimagining that gives the ballet historical context by inserting Carroll into the narrative, as he visits Alice and her eccentric family at their home. As he did in real life he gives her his book as a gift—and casts a spell as she reads it—until she falls asleep for her dream adventure to begin. Even her family members tag along, as each has their own counterpart in Wonderland.
Matthew Pierce composed the eclectic music which matches the mood of each scene and featured character—lighthearted for Alice, dissonant for the Queen—and conductor Leif Bjaland and his 15 piece orchestra of strings and percussion brings it beautifully to life. James Kronzer's scenic design is a picture-window, monochrome of whites that serves as a blank canvas against which the colorful, sculptural costumes of Liz Vandal—think playing cards for tutus—and the rich lighting design and stunning backdrops—like the single giant red rose—of Clifton Taylor (executed by Steve O'Shea) are able to pop.
It’s a joy to watch the athletic and energetic dancers perform Webre’s challenging choreography, which layers contemporary styles on top of ballet, with intricate gestures that capture the essence of the many creature characters. His acrobatic pas de deux are strenuous for the men, who lift and catch their partners in a variety of complex combinations, as do the Guys in White, a male corps de ballet who carry dancers aloft and help shape their movements, reminiscent of Pilobolus style.
The doll-like Emma McGirr gives Alice a happy, precocious quality with flashes of petulance that mark her girlish personality. Her dancing is pretty and precise, and when the perpetually late White Rabbit, played by the endearing Robert Mulvey, arrives to hop and binky about, Alice joins him for a sweet duet of pas de chats and leaps and beats for one of the most uplifting scenes in the show.
Alice encounters the silly dancing Doors, and she drinks a potion and grows super tall in a neat effect while another performer's feet dance underneath her dress. When she shrinks too small she flies above (lifted by Flying by Foy), seeming miniature-sized as she peeks through the keyhole while the goofy Tweedle Dee (Kenneth Shelby) and Tweedle Dum (Michael Caye) whiz by on their tandem bike. She cries a river of tears and gets swept away with the Dormouse (Caroline MacDonald), both tossed about by the Guys amidst the old-school effect of blue ribbons of fabric stretched across the stage and fanned to create waves.
The corps de ballet stars as 1950’s-style, chorus girl Flamingos in a gorgeous scene colored by soft hues of pink, which is an homage to Swan Lake and features the radiant Mirella Costa Neto as the Eaglet (in pink leotard and striking turquoise tights) and the charming Sergio Alvarez as the Dodo. Costa Neto whips out bravura, change-of-focus fouettés, and Alvarez does the same with his tours á la secondes and circular leaps. When the pink Flaminglets make their grand entrance--the show has 60 children of varying ages from the NBT Academy playing Daisies, Hedgehogs, and more, rehearsed by répétiteur CeCe Farha--they’re cute balls-of-fluff, but they’re just as focused and polished as their adult costars.
The enigmatic Cheshire Cat, danced by the playful Benjamin Tucker, is a jazzy alley cat and appears against a starry backdrop and full moon. For their humorous pas de deux he twirls his tail, slinks around Alice, and demands a good scratching, then lifts and catches her in the wildest of configurations. There are shenanigans at the Duchess’ cottage, where the acrobatic rock stars Fish (Ryan McNally, who also has a nice solo as the Joker), and Frog (Ryo Suzuki) dance, as do the bossy Duchess (Matthew Rusk) and exasperated Cook (Caye) in a funny cartwheel duet.
A sensuous Caterpillar, played by the limber Jaime DeRocker, is held aloft by the Guys who move in tandem, dipping her down and back up again so she moves like a baby butterfly would, until she metamorphoses and grows iridescent wings. And the neon Mad Hatter, played by the quirky David Hochberg, gives a psychedelic and cheerful tea party as guests tumble and cartwheel about.
The second act belongs to the nasty Queen of Hearts and Christina Ghiardi, who plays her with judgmental, pinched-lip glory, sinewy and full of predatory impulse as she dances with crisp assertiveness in her deep red catsuit. The corps de ballet are the playing cards during her Garden Party scene, and Tucker proves a funny foil as her henpecked husband the bumbling King. She unleashes her Jabberwock (serpentine puppet designed by Eric J. Van Wyk) which Alice slays, but the Queen ultimately loses during the trial scene at her palace, when her house of cards comes tumbling down.
When Mulvey as the White Rabbit leaped about the stage with Alice to the delight of the crowd, the gentleman seated next to me whispered proudly, "That's my son." And he should be proud, as should NBT and artistic director Roy Kaiser for their brilliant production of “Alice (in Wonderland).”