ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (National Ballet of Canada). At the Four Seasons Centre (145 Queen West). To November 25. $25-$239. 416-345-9595, nationalballet.ca. See listing. Rating: NNNN
When I reviewed the National Ballet of Canada's production of Alice's Adventures In Wonderland last season, I was less impressed with Christopher Wheeldon's dance than with Bob Crawley's colourful, inventive designs and Joey Talbot's lively, energetic score.
Now Wheeldon has added some more dance and reshaped the piece into three acts instead of two; and the result feels more coherent and enjoyable. It's become a fine, family-friendly addition to the National's repertoire.
Wheeldon opens the piece with a brilliant scene set in Oxford circa1862, where author and photographer Lewis Carroll (Aleksander Antonijevic, alternating with others), is entertaining Alice Liddell (Sonia Rodriguez), the inspiration for one of literature's most enduring heroines, and her family and friends, at a garden party.
As in the beginning of The Wizard Of Oz, everything's planted for Alice's surreal adventure, where ordinary things - red and white roses, jam tarts and one domineering, judgemental mother (Greta Hodgkinson) - will take on different shapes once she falls down a rabbit hole.
That journey down that hole, captured using video and puppetry in an amusing homage to Hitchcock's Spellbound, is just one of the many effects that make this show a visual delight. Crowley's design of the Queen of Hearts (Hodgkinson, at her imperious best), humanoid playing cards and flamingo croquet mallets and hedgehog balls are all delightful, and should keep kids entranced.
For adults, the relationship between Alice and Jack, the gardener's boy, who morphs into the Knave of Hearts (both played by Guillaume Cote), has been deepened in this version, especially in a magical act two pas de deux. Hodgkinson, meanwhile, executes her bravura comic number - a sort of Bizarro-world take on Princess Aurora's boyfriend-choosing scene from Sleeping Beauty - with total panache.
Rodriguez, onstage most of the night, is elegant and graceful throughout, but Alice still remains a passive character - she witnesses things rather than acts, and seems to accept the rapid changes of scenery and characters with the unperturbed attitude of someone with ADD.
If the ballet has a fault, it's that there's a lack of tension and momentum. Does Alice long to return home? It's hard to tell.
But who really cares when there's such gorgeous eye candy on display?