Adapting literary masterpieces for the ballet is an art form in itself. With such a hybrid, the Rosetta Stone for successful adaptations is staying true to the emotional arc and catharsis of the through line; in other words, the emotional experience of the new genre must resemble the original catharsis.

Sharon Wehner as Alice
Sharon Wehner as Alice
Photo: Mike Watson
While this account of Alice's experiences, adapted by Septime Webre for the Washington (DC) Ballet, draws on characters and events from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, it is, in many passages unrecognizable, with Alice marginalized or invisible, while certain obscure incidents within the tale are overly magnified and out of proportion, lengthening the story significantly and unnecessarily (a surprise considering the sizeable number of youngsters on stage and in the audience), and leaving us to wonder, on multiple occasions, where we are and what the various scenes have to do with the title character's journey.

Yosvani Ramos as Dodo Bird and Dana Benton as Eaglet
Yosvani Ramos as Dodo Bird
and Dana Benton as Eaglet
Photo: Mike Watson
In addition to this confused editing of Carroll's story, the stylistic variance from scene to scene in costuming, backgrounds, and choreography, gives the feeling of watching multiple stories that have somehow been shuffled together, and makes us wonder if the designers did not indulge in some of Alice's potions, herbs, and mushrooms and were suffering a bad trip. True, Carroll's tale is meant to work on many levels, but it must succeed first as coherent children's tale.

Maria Mosina as the Queen of Hearts
Maria Mosina as the Queen of Hearts
Photo: Mike Watson
As a vehicle for the celebration of Sharon Wehner's 20th season with the company, it is a disappointing choice, since Alice's choreography offers us only a limited sampling of Wehner's talent. Still, there were a few endearing numbers, though there were opportunities lost for something more memorable; for example, Alice's interaction with the Cheshire Cat was an invitation to orchestrate and choreograph the equavalent of what Saint-Saëns did with music in Carnival of the Animals.

In addition, early in Act I, Alice is wearing pointe shoes, but performing steps in a pas de deux on half-toe—highly unusual in a classical ballet. Even more surprising is seeing Alice do this in a pas de deux, when she's supported by her partner. This seems an odd choreographic choice; or, Wehner was having an issue with her shoes, feet, or something.

Sean Omandam as Tweedle Dee and Kevin Gaël Thomas as Tweedle Dum
Sean Omandam as Tweedle Dee
and Kevin Gaël Thomas as Tweedle Dum
Photo: Mike Watson
The special effects are wonderful, particularly Alice's initial falling into and through the White Rabbit's hole (Flying by Foy), as well as her struggles with her size relative to the doors through which she must navigate. Alice's antagonist is, of course, the Queen of Hearts, danced by Maria Mosina, who is also celebrating her 20th season. Mosina's striking costume and makeup promise some exotic dances that, for the most part, never materialize, falling short of showcasing her talent as well.

While sections of Matthew Pierce's score are wonderfully edgy, with violin themes that recall the opening bars of Bartok's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 2, the music is more atmospheric than thematic, and fails to provide a satisfying series of opportunities for exploring a wider classical vocabulary.

The Colorado Ballet's presentation of Alice runs through February 28th. For tickets:

Bob Bows

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