Dancers Keiichi Hirano and Sonia Rodriguez are a tad upstaged by the scenery. Photo by Bruce Zinger
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (National Ballet of Canada/Royal Ballet/Luminato). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To June 25. $24-$227. 416-345-9595, national.ballet.ca. See listing Rating: NNN
It's not often that a ballet's score and design upstage the steps, but that's the case with this adaptation of the well-known Lewis Carroll story. Bob Crowley's sumptuous sets and costumes and Joby Talbot's whimsical score are so effective, they make you wish Christopher Wheeldon's choreography were more inspired.
I understand the problem. The food-and-drink-obsessed Alice isn't the most active character, and there's more dreamlike logic than narrative drive to the tale. Much of the book's charm comes from its wordplay, something that - duh - doesn't lend itself well to movement.
That said, this National Ballet of Canada/Luminato co-production with London's Royal Ballet begins beautifully. Scenarist Nicholas Wright sets up Alice's pre-rabbit-hole life efficiently, planting ideas about roses, a frisky bunny pulled out of a hat, and the strict Victorian era before plunging her down - in an homage to Hitchcock's Spellbound - to encounter a series of wild adventures.
It's in these adventures that Crowley has the most fun, with an enormous Cheshire Cat that rearranges its limbs, a miniature door with a mind of its own, and a Queen of Hearts outfit that makes dancer Tanya Howard seem like the mistress at a fetish ball.
Wheeldon tries to capture the book's playfulness by having the Mad Hatter (Robert Stephen) tap dance, for instance, or having the Queen parody a classic scene from Sleeping Beauty for the show's biggest laugh. But there's an emotional void in the piece - even though Wright has set up a love story, of sorts, between Alice (Sonia Rodriguez) and the Knave of Hearts (Keiichi Hirano), occasioning some generic pas de deux that the dancers execute gracefully.
Like The Nutcracker, this production should mostly delight children and dance lovers with an eye for fashion and design.