Oregon Ballet Theatre
Keller Auditorium
Portland, Oregon

March 3, 2018
Alice (in wonderland)

Dean Speer

Lewis Carroll’s famous Alice has been an inspirational source for movies, music, literature, and dance since her appearance about 100 years ago. (This includes my own adaptation, when I found an original piano score titled “Alice” among my grandmother’s music collection. I used it for an all school ballet recital more than 30 years ago). The now defunct Repertory Dancers NW had a commissioned work of this theme, too, brilliantly and smartly done to Ferde Grofe’s Grand Canyon Suite. For example, the donkeys going down the path tune was used to depict Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum. Shockingly, I was cast as the Mad Hatter.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers in Septime Webre's "Alice (in wonderland)" Photo by Jingzi Zhao

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers
in Septime Webre’s “Alice (in wonderland)”
Photo by Jingzi Zhao

I was pleased to see how well attended Oregon Ballet Theatre’s show was. Indeed, there seemed to be a clamor for tickets, and after seeing it for myself, I’d definitely say the company has a hit on its hands. Bravo to the artistic team, headed by Kevin Irving, who thought of and then brought this 2012 ballet to Oregon audiences.

First made for The Washington (D.C.) Ballet by Septime Webre, Alice (in wonderland)‘s proven popularity has allowed it to be requested and acquired by several ballet companies, and now OBT.

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers Adam Hartley and Eva Burton in Septime Webre’s "ALICE (in wonderland)" Photo by Yi Yin

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers
Adam Hartley and Eva Burton
in Septime Webre’s “ALICE (in wonderland)”
Photo by Yi Yin

With an original score (re-orchestrated especially for the mighty OBT Orchestra, under the baton of Niel DePonte) by Matthew Pierce, Alice seeks to tell her story through a series of vignettes from alone and bored in a chair to all the fun of the books we want to see – falling down the rabbit hole, growing both taller (brilliantly done) and smaller, and encountering enough weird and exotic creatures to make your head spin: the Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Caterpillar, Dodo Bird, Cheshire Cat, Cards, and of course, Tweedledee and his pal, Tweedledum. One exciting and awesome element of this production is the flying through the air of several of these characters (set up by Flying by Foy). I loved how Tweedledee and Tweedledum bicycle laterally across the stage from stage left to right WAY up; it seemed to be about two-thirds of the way.

When Alice grows nearly to the top of the proscenium arch, a long dress I expected, but not the pointe shoes underneath that remain on stage level making typical pointe steps: echappe and releve. What total delight and fun!

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers Michael Linsmeier and Ansa Capizzi in Septime Webre’s "ALICE (in wonderland)" Photo by Yi Yin

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancers
Michael Linsmeier and Ansa Capizzi
in Septime Webre’s “ALICE (in wonderland)”
Photo by Yi Yin

This was truly a topsy-turvy showcase for the entire OBT company, plus members of the new(ish) OBT2 company and students from the OBT School, levels 1 through 5. Alice was danced/played by Ansa Capizzi with her foe, the Queen of Hearts/Mother Eva Burton, King of Hearts/Father Adam Hartley, and with Thomas Baker’s droll White Rabbit and the both crazy and sympathetic Mad Hatter/Lewis Carroll of Michael Linsmeier.

For a complete ensemble ballet, including soloists, and pas de deux work, we were treated to a corps of flamingos, and yes, four whose pas de quatre suggested that of the Four Little Swans from Swan Lake.

Somewhat paralleling the wonderful Mme. Simone character (and her famous wooden shoe clogging dance) from La Fille Mal Gardee) was a wry bit with the Duchess (Adam Hartley) and her hapless cook, Chauncey Parsons. Their interactions – her bossiness and his stupor – were a riot, as was what they both took out of and added to her enormous cooking vat. Among these were adorable little piglets (courtesy of OBT School students).

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Emily Parker in Septime Webres "Alice (in wonderland)" Photo by Yi Yin

Oregon Ballet Theatre dancer Emily Parker
in Septime Webres “Alice (in wonderland)”
Photo by Yi Yin

My only reservation with the ballet was how fast following the Court Trial scene it all seemed to dissolve, leaving the audience back with Alice alone in her chair.

As Mr. Irving said in his pre-curtain remarks, magic and reality do happen. This fun show stretched OBT, and it’s one that I’m confident will be returning to the Portland stage in the not-too-distant future.