Wheeldon’s colorful ‘Alice’ _ a really big show
NEW YORK (AP) — It takes nine — yes, nine — tractor-trailers to move all the sets and props for “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” a $2 million extravaganza that arrived in New York this week. No wonder its choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, calls the production “my big girl.”
But “Alice” is a girl on the move. She premiered in London, then Toronto, and has played Japan, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. And now, she’s arrived in New York — the place many see as the dance capital of the world — a full three years after opening.
What took so long?
Well, the show’s just so darned big. “Strangely enough, there aren’t many theaters here that can fit this production,” says Wheeldon, 41, who’s among the top few classical dance choreographers in the world today.
One theater that can fit the show — and only just — is the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, where the production, presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation, is now having a one-week run, with hopes of later going on the road. It’s a sign of how huge a financial undertaking it is these days to mount a full-length ballet that the production is shared by two companies, the Royal Ballet in London and the National Ballet of Canada.
“They have that American energy that some companies don’t have,” Wheeldon says of the Canadian troupe, which is performing it in New York. “They’re a very theatrical company.”
And that’s good, because “Alice” is as much theater as it is dance. “It’s set up like a big vaudeville show,” Wheeldon notes.
What do families need to know about this “Alice”? Well, Lewis Carroll’s girl is now an adolescent, to allow her to be played by an adult ballerina. And she has a love interest: Jack the gardener’s son, who is also the Knave of Hearts, in Wonderland. (Like in “The Wizard of Oz,” the characters have real-life and Wonderland identities.)
Why the romance? Well, wouldn’t you want a pas de deux, too? “It also gives the story a bit of a through line,” Wheeldon says.
But kids will most likely be more interested in the huge and colorful sets, by multiple Tony winner Bob Crowley, and the use of video animation, puppetry, and lots of other things that make it such an extravaganza.
“It’s like a big Broadway show in a way,” says Linda Shelton, executive director of the Joyce Theater. “The costumes are magical. And it’s a wonderful story, known by both kids and adults.”
About that story: There’s not a lot of it in Carroll’s book, and Wheeldon says that’s a gift. “The great thing about the story is that there ISN’T much story — that gives you free range,” he says. “You go from one zany situation to the other.” One criticism has been that this show is more theater than ballet, to which Wheeldon replies: “That’s kind of the point!”
The National Ballet of Canada hasn’t danced at Lincoln Center since 1988. They’ve come back in a big way: In addition to those nine tractor trailers, says artistic director Karen Kain, they’ve brought close to 70 dancers — not counting a bunch of local kids playing hedgehogs. That hedgehog job isn’t simple: “They need to be focused or they’ll get whacked by a flamingo,” she says. There are also 65 stagehands involved.
“This is the biggest show we’ve ever done,” Kain says. “It’s quite a challenge. It demands very fine dancers. But it has enormous charm, and humor — Chris is a very funny man. You’ll leave the theater chuckling to yourself.”