Opening its new 2021-22 season last weekend, the Hong Kong Ballet revived artistic director Septime Webre’s two-act work Alice (in Wonderland), which was premiered by the company in 2018. Webre originally created this work for the Washington Ballet when he was its artistic director.
Act 1 of this two-hour-long ballet has a prologue and four scenes. The prologue sees Alice daydreaming at home, which is reprised in the ending. Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is brought in as a character, who dances a warm duet with Alice before taking her to a picnic in the country where her exciting dreams start in her sleep.
Act 2 has three scenes climaxing in Alice’s trial by the Queen of Hearts.
Alice is full of energy and action. The stage effects are impressive, occasionally bringing to mind Cirque du Soleil and Walt Disney.
The first scene in Act 1 makes extensive use of fly wires. Contrasts in scale are cleverly employed, for instance in the sizes of the doors and the flamingos. The baby flamingos are cute and lovely. Alice herself magnifying to a gigantic size reaching the top of the stage while dancing en pointe is spectacular and entrances the whole audience.
The caterpillar’s transformation into a butterfly is imaginatively conveyed in an Arabian-style dance. And the Jabberwocky dragon dance is lively. Blue fabric is used to depict the “pool of tears” in which Alice is swimming.
Webre’s choreography is functional and effective. The second scene is the best in the whole ballet in terms of choreography. The divertissements, with a duet for the Eaglet and the Dormouse at the center, as well as a female corps de ballet of flamingos offer a satisfying suite of classical dancing. The virtuosic solos of the Eaglet and the Dormouse are dazzling, and the flamingos’ ensemble dance is delightful.
Act 1 should have ended on this high note with an interval. Instead there are two more scenes to follow. The “Pig and Pepper” scene in which the babies turned into piglets, though funny, is somewhat of an anticlimax. And the fourth scene crams in too many strands of the story – the Cheshire cat and the Mad Hatter’s tea party. The first act is far too long, lasting more than an hour, and should be tightened with a sharper focus.
The shorter Act 2 is mainly about the Queen of Hearts’ garden party and the trial of Alice. The choreography for the card-game scene is impressive with striking group patterns and a virtuosic solo for the Joker. The final scene in which Alice dismisses the Queen is too abrupt, however.
On the opening night, Amber Lewis was superb in the title role. Albert Gordon dazzled as the Dodo Bird, partnering Kim Eunsil, who was dancing sharply as the Eaglet. Jonathan Spigner was energetic as the White Rabbit, while Yonen Takano was handsome as Lewis Carroll. Ye Feifei was authoritative as the Queen of Hearts. The student Nicolas Yu impressed in his solo in Act 2.
Nana Sakai led the matinee cast that I also attended. James Kronzer’s set designs are colorful, especially the backdrop in the Rabbit Hole scene, which resembles a cubist painting. Liz Vandal’s costume designs are also tasteful. Matthew Pierce’s cinematic score was played in a recording this time instead of by a live orchestra due to copyright reasons.
This revival of Alice was a promising start to the new season ahead.
Also read: HK Ballet’s Peter Pan is a winner