His Majesty’s Theatre
Reviewed May 6
Saturated with colour and simmering with absurdity, ALICE (in wonderland) is an absolute highlight in West Australian Ballet’s repertoire. With enthralling set design, costumes and lighting, the show is a spectacle to behold. But it is the uniqueness and originality of Septime Webre’s choreography and Matthew Pierce’s accompanying musical score that sets it apart as a timeless ballet, well-deserving of its second season at His Majesty’s Theatre.
Webre (artistic director of the Hong Kong Ballet) choreographed ALICE in 2012, bringing to life Lewis Carroll’s much-loved 1865 book. The abstract nature of the ballet results in an episodic structure that frees it from the confines of a traditional linear narrative, allowing for imaginative interpretations of each scene. The audience follows young protagonist Alice into a psychedelic dreamy wonderland, where she meets a flurry of eccentric characters who take her on a journey of nonsensical adventure. A perfect match for the demanding lead role, Carina Roberts portrayed a brave, youthful and curious Alice, with genuine wonder and a delightful presence. Making her return to the company on opening night after first joining as a Young Artist in 2017, Eka Perunicic (as a Flamingo and a Card) shone brightly in the corps de ballet with a radiating smile and grounded muscularity.
Infused with modernity, ALICE is one of the most choreographically-interesting works I have seen performed by the company. Webre’s contemporary movement choices are compelling from beginning to end, with bursts of dynamism, unique phrasing and unexpected pathways for the body. The partnering is complex and at times almost acrobatic, with the female leads often barely touching the ground as they twist and turn above their counterparts. A mesmerising example was the trance-like Caterpillar scene, where the bendy and lithe Asja Petrovski undulated in sweeping waves through the air, held high by five dancers beneath her.
Performed by West Australian Symphony Orchestra, Pierce’s music composition creates a magical soundscape that rises and falls through the rollercoaster ride of Alice’s journey. The composition lives in synchronicity with every movement, and provides the punchline for many golden points of humour; memorably the woozy strings that "laugh" as Alice tries to squeeze through a tiny door.
The visual elements of the show feel fantastically camp and outrageously quirky, a standout being the likeness of the Mad Hatter’s costume to Ziggy Stardust. Designed by Cirque de Soleil Costume Designer Liz Vandal, the intricate and bold costumes make each character pop against the colourful 60s-aesthetic of set designer James Kronzer’s vibrant surrealist backdrops. Featuring repeating patterns of pop-art style images, Kronzer’s minimalist design creates the illusion of a stage yawning with infinite depth, giving space for the chaotic action of the story to breathe.
Further breaking traditions of classical ballet, the work is punctuated by refreshing moments of voice as the dancers yell, gasp, whoop and exclaim. Adam Alzaim (in the role of Singing Card) ) delivered a particularly hilarious rendition of Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” in the form of a carefree singalong to his headphones, as unbeknown to him, the evil Queen of Hearts (danced with wicked passion by Glenda Garcia Gomez) watched on disapprovingly.
The ballet accelerates to a dizzying speed towards the end of the second and final act, and I found myself wishing for more time to fully digest the detail of each scene before it galloped into the next. Although the dancers embraced the puppetry roles with great gusto and enthusiasm, perhaps there could be some benefit in further mentoring from a skilled puppeteer. Convincingly animating an object is challenging, and the grotesque beauty of puppet designer Eric Van Wyk’s Jabberwock was at times interrupted by jolting movements that didn’t quite embody the grandness of how such a powerful creature could move.
Whether you are keen to see a ballet that explores choreography beyond the confines of classical movement, or ready to be awe-struck by the magnificence of a world-class production, ALICE is sure to be an exciting trip down the rabbit hole for audiences of all ages.
– ISABELLE LECLEZIO
All photos by Bradbury Photography.