Lewis Carroll might have an impressive literary imagination but for consummate choreography and spectacle, Septime Webre is the man. He admits he was totally involved with every sensational aspect of ALICE (in wonderland) – which first premiered in the US in 2008 – and it shows.
Webre cuts to the chase. The ballet opens in a white square proscenium in the middle of which sits Alice dreamily alone. But, before we’ve had time to blink, she’s down the rabbit hole.
Chihiro Nomura as Alice and Matthew Lehmann as the Cheshire Cat. Photograph © Servey Pevnev
Alice (Chihiro Nomura) is brave. She has admirable aplomb in the face of the ridiculous situations, and ridiculous personages she is met with – rather like the scenarios taking place in the world today. How delicious to guess who Tweedledum and Tweedledee are in the present global political arena; who the Red Queen might be and definitely, where the Rabbit is – so very late, for an important Brexit date.
Not that you have too much time to ponder on the production’s universal implications. Webre gives the audience little time to take everything in, just as he gives the incredible dancers little time to breathe. This Alice is powerful, exhilarating and funny. Why this is so, is due to the extraordinary quality of the artists who have colluded with the multi-talented Webre.
The much-awarded Liz Vandal has been collaborating with Webre for decades. Her imagination is boundless. Every exquisite colourful costume nails it, capturing the character and defying us not to laugh in pleasurable recognition of her talent. The Queen of Hearts (Glenda Garcia Gomez) looks like a voracious trap-door spider and has a red heart embroidered not where it should be but at the site of her desires. The haughty flamingos stride about in bold hues of pink, while the Mad Hatter is such a riot of colour your eyes threaten to water. The Duchess (played hilariously by Christian Luck) rustles about in a big-skirted black plastic dress, edged with black and white gingham.
Jesse Homes and Matthew Edwardson as Tweedledee and Tweedledum
This assault of colour and pattern in no way frightened the award-winning set designer, James Kronzer or the lighting designer Clifton Taylor (with associate Steve O’Shea). Kronzer has ideas way out of the ordinary. His vivid colours and sharp-edged designs are awash with such unrelenting lighting it makes them quiver and rebel against the obscurity that some set design is often heir to. When Alice grows and then shrinks, so do the brightly-coloured doors she’s trying to get out of. There’s a huge key-hole and bubbles and big moving signs, a pool of glimmering water, festoons of flowers, a giant flamingo cut-out, a huge moon and house-sized toadstools. Dazzling.
Then there’s Matthew Pierce’s evocative music, played sumptuously by the West Australian Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by the flamboyant Jessica Gethin. Webre worked with Pierce on each scene, deciding on exact key, timbre and tempo. So precise are they, that you can hear the Cheshire Cat purr and miaow in the brass and strings; so discordant are they when the Queen of Hearts appears that you learn to anticipate her entrance and tremble in your seats.
The aerial work is fun to watch, and the dancers manage to look nonchalant as they are whizzed across space, including an ET moment when the red-headed Tweedle Dum and Dee cycle through the air in their bright yellow trousers. Also, irresistible, and expertly drilled, are the child performers, exquisitely costumed as baby flamingos, piggies, doors, hedgehogs or sandwich cards.
Julio Blanes as the White Rabbit and Glenda Garcia Gomez as the Queen of Hearts. Photograph © Sergey Pevnev
In the main roles, the charming Nomura and energetic Julio Blanes (White Rabbit) are delightful in their playful acceptance of the mayhem around them. Alice is a marathon of a part and Nomura impressively tackles some very complex passages. Technically stunning, Gomez aptly reads the dramatic and comic potential of The Queen of Hearts. Oscar Valdes’ Dodo and Dayana Hardy Acuña’s Eaglet are show-stoppers and, with his sky-scraper frame, Juan Carlos Osma’s Mad Hatter mesmerises the audience with all the tricks of the trade and a collusive grin. As the caterpillar, Alexa Tuzil superbly tackles her devilishly hard movements. Matthew Lehmann, in various parts, elicited appreciative laughs from the audience, who, incidentally, applauded so enthusiastically throughout the performance they were almost clapped-out by the end – the dancers certainly must have been.
One of Webre’s talents is his ability to give lucidity to a cluster of characters on stage, all vying for their place in the sun. With this outstanding production and a brilliant performance by the West Australian Ballet Company you have an Alice that earns its place in the sun and is absolutely enchanting.
ALICE (in wonderland) plays at His Majesty’s Theatre, Perth until December 15