Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Alice in Wonderland

April 17, 2008
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Benedum Center, Pittsburgh, Pa
April 17–20, 2008
Reviewed by Karen Dacko 

The third time’s a charmer. Derek Deane’s entertaining two-act Alice in Wonderland, which supplants two previous versions in the PBT repertoire, vividly recreates episodes from Lewis Carroll’s fantasy tale while enlivening John Tenniel’s illustrations. A conventional story ballet with a predominantly classical movement palette, sumptuous costumes, and a serviceable compilation of Tchaikovsky music, Alice, originally created for the English National Ballet, also references Marius Petipa’s big three.

    Following a bucolic scene for Alice and her preoccupied sister, Alice plunges into a nightmarish vortex of torso-less tutus, odd beasts, and freewheeling doors that swirl beneath an askew pocket watch, akin to The Nutcracker’s imposing timepiece. Cygnet-like lobsters dance a crisp, precise quadrille, complete with synchronized head action. A sleeping Alice envisions her adult self in a fluid adagio with the princely Knave of Hearts.

    The White Rabbit, with his brisé volés and grande pirouettes, is a chunky prince, a parallel cleverly drawn via a duet with the Knave. Deane’s foray into contemporary movements yields flexed-footed beats and fouettés, plus some heel work. Standouts are the male variations for the Caterpillar, whose slithery solo was accented with cross-legged positions performed squatting, standing, and on his back; a preening Cheshire Cat who swipes his ear and stretches his hindquarters; and the Gryphon, who at floor level creeps stealthy towards Alice with slow, deliberate développés.

    Alice frolics with Wonderland’s denizens via duets and trios that require technical assurance, stamina, and acting skills. With an appropriate mix of excitement, caution, and defiance, the expressive Kumiko Tsuji, captivated with her child-like demeanor and solid technique. Kaori Ogasawara, a magnetic presence, was an authoritative, yet beautiful Queen of Hearts. Her clean and forceful “Off with their heads!” mime brought laughs from the audience. Christopher Budzynski was a technically savvy White Rabbit, while Joseph Parr and Makoto Ono were delightful Fish and Frog Footmen, respectively.

    Creative staging contributes to this Alice’s success. A grotesque moment with a moving door panel provides the distraction for a table to resize, while a replay of Act I chaos and split-second timing brings the work full circle and to a satisfying conclusion.

(Photo by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT)