Alice – the verdict

The Royal Ballet’s new Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has divided critics, with much praise going to the score by Jody Talbot, to the designer, Bob Crowley, and to Lauren Cuthbertson’s performance as Alice but with Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography drawing a mixed response.
Judith Mackrell of The Guardian was the most positive of six influential critics. The visual invention that they all admired was matched in her view by the choreography with its tap dancing Mad Hatter [the Australian, Steven McRae, who, incidentally, once brought the tough Prix de Lausanne jury to its feet with his tap number], “a preposterous Rose Adagio for the Queen of Hearts (with jam tarts) and the genius casting of Simon Russell Beale as the Duchess dancing and acting a comic storm over her Hell’s Kitchen of a sausage factory.
“But the straight dancing is equally excellent – ranging from rosy, tender, love duets to a thrilling neoclassical ensemble for the deck of cards”.
Although Jann Parry, writing for, declared the opening night gala a great success, she went on to write: “It’s hardly a ballet at all, more of a series of choreographic sketches to very enjoyable music… take away the sets, projections and lighting effects and there’s not much in the way of memorable choreography”. Curiously, Roslyn Sulcas, in The New York Times, summarised in the same way with a bit more detail: “Take away the high-tech video projection — a marvelous, spiraling fall down the rabbit hole, the shrinking and expanding doors of the room the heroine is first trapped in, the holographic effect of a tiny, tilted room — and there’s not much that would indicate, choreographically speaking, a 21st-century ballet”.
Sulcas searched in vain for memorable dance moments that “might reflect something of the characters’ feelings or development, or suggest their unconscious desires and fears”.
Clement Crisp in The Financial Times, found the Lewis Carroll narrative does not lend itself to dance: “Carroll’s inconsequentialities, which made Alice an Urtext for surrealism, are altogether too unlikely to admit of a danced life – as previous versions I have seen have made clear”.
Crisp concluded that the piece was “as hectic as a rollercoaster, and too fast for its own good”.
The pace was also too much for Ismene Brown who wrote for The Arts Desk, that Alice was “all so hectic with over-activity that one feels like the White Rabbit: can’t stop, can’t draw breath, can’t think”.
And Sarah Crompton of The Telegraph agreed that for much of its duration it seemed “like one damn thing after another”. Mackrell, Parry and Brown gave full credit to Talbot’s score while for Crisp, the man of the moment was Crowley, who “puts on stage by means of film, projections, witty costuming, dazzling feats of legerdemain, and decorative bravura”.
The one effect everyone loved was the large Cheshire Cat whose body parts are assembled and dispersed by black-clad puppeteers – in Parry’s view “a convincingly surrealist dream experience”.

Dave Morgan has taken some great shots of Alice – more on the Galleries Performance page

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Sarah Lamb and the Cheshire Cat, photo by Dave Morgan ©

Sarah Lamb and the Cheshire Cat, photo by Dave Morgan ©