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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (The Australian Ballet), at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne - 2 hours 45 minutes, including two intervals

The Australian Ballet’s glorious production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a fitting tribute to the splendid State Theatre before it undergoes a three-year refurbishment.

 

It is a colourful, highly creative, whimsical work – a sensory sensation.

 

The winner of the 2018 Helpmann Award for Best Ballet, Christopher Wheeldon choreographs the translation of Lewis Carroll’s beloved book.

 

The ballet was original created for The Royal Ballet in 2011.

Photos by Christopher Rodgers-Wilson

 

Set in Oxford in 1862, the story begins at a garden party, where Carroll entertains three young sisters.

 

One of them, Alice, is friends with the gardener’s boy, Jack.

 

He gives her a rose and she reciprocates with a jam tart, but Alice’s mother accuses him of stealing it and banishes him.

 

Alice is heartbroken, but while consoling her and taking her photo, Carroll suddenly grows a tail and disappears down a rabbit hole.

Alice follows, only to find that Jack is the Knave of Hearts, accused of stealing a tray of tarts by the bad-tempered Queen of Hearts.

 

Her guards pursue Jack relentlessly. Alice is also in on the hunt and meets a menagerie of oddities.

 

They include the White Rabbit, the Chesire Cat, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Sleeping Dormouse, flamingos and hedgehogs. (The realisation of these critters is nothing short of genius – inventiveness personified.)

 

What is clear is that the Queen of Hearts is unforgiving. How will this end? Will Alice live to save the day? Will she awaken from her nightmare?

On opening night, Benedicte Bemet excelled in the lead. Her lightness of touch, charm and open-hearted performance was given polish by her facial expressions.

 

Joseph Caley impressed as her opposite number, Jack, while Chengwu Guo was a persistent force as Lewis Carroll and the White Rabbit.

 

The scene stealer though was the finger pointing, hand waving, fiery redhead Robyn Hendricks as the officious mother and axe-wielding Queen of Hearts.

 

Her deliberately awkward dance routine in Act III is hilarious. The audience was understandably in raptures.

Another to capture attention and hold it with his tap-dancing prowess and bold attire was George-Murray Nightingale. He backs up the showiness inherent in the role of the Mad Hatter.

 

Characterised by balletic mastery, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is as much about the look as it is about the pure art form … and it looks stunning. 

 

The visual artistry involved is entrancing.

 

The sets and costuming (there are 27 set changes and more than 350 costumes) leave one in awe of the artisans who created them.


 But the ultimate accolade rests with Tony Award-winning designer Bob Crowley who conceived them.

 

Think a disembodied Chesire Cat manipulated by puppeteers in black and a slinky Caterpillar with 16 feet in bejewelled pointe shoes for starters. Dancing playing cards are another feature.

 

Traditional design has been seamlessly (pun fully intended) melded with arresting video, including optical illusions, and dollops of magic. It all goes down a treat.

This is fantasy on steroids … a head turner that continues to deliver and delight young and old alike.

 

Musically, balletic melodies come with loud theatrical flourishes, the work of Joby Talbot and Orchestra Victoria.

 

Suffice to say, I have never seen a more evocative balletic concoction. Bravo! Bravo!

 

Two hours 45 minutes, including two 20-minute intervals, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is on at State Theatre, Arts Centre Melbourne until 26th March, 2024.

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