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Review: ALICE (in Wonderland)

A promising start to the 2018/19 season, though this production lacks focus at times.

Written by
Kevin Ng

Hong Kong Ballet opened its new 2018/9 season last weekend to full houses with a premiere of ALICE (in Wonderland). This two-act production was choreographed by HK Ballet’s current artistic director, Septime Webre, who originally created this production for Washington Ballet in 2012 during his tenure there as artistic director.

Act 1 has a prologue and four different scenes, while Act 2 has three scenes. The prologue sees Alice day-dreaming in her family home, and this is repeated in the ending. Later she dances a soaring duet full of lifts with Lewis Carrol, the author of Alice in Wonderland.

Stage effects are impressive and occasionally recall Disney and Cirque du Soleil. The first scene Down the Rabbit Hole makes extensive use of fly wires. Alice reaching a gigantic size while dancing on pointe is spectacular and delighted the children in the audience. The second scene, Pool of Tears and the Caucus Race, makes clever use of blue fabric to depict the sea waves where Alice is swimming.

This second scene is the best in the whole ballet in terms of choreography. The divertissements, with a duet for the eaglet and the Dodo Bird at the centre, as well as dance for a female corps de ballets of flamingos, provide a satisfying scope of classical dancing.  Yet while the virtuosic solos of the eaglet and the Dodo Bird are exciting, the choreography for the rest of the ballet is average.

Act 1 ought to have ended here on this high note of excitement. However, there are still two more scenes. The Pig and Pepper scene in which Alice sees babies turned into piglets is a bit of an anticlimax, and the following scene also suffers from longueur as it crams in too many strands of the Wonderland story, such as the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

Act 2 is, fortunately, shorter, and is mainly about the Queen of Hearts’ garden party and the final trial of Alice. A dragon dance and a fireflies dance are pleasant. However, the final scene when Alice dismisses the Queen of Hearts is too abrupt.

Hong Kong Ballet fielded excellent performances on the opening night. Venus Villa was superb in the title role. Guest dancer Brooklyn Mack was sensational as both the Dodo Bird and the joker. Jin Yao was a menacing Queen. Shen Jie was good as the White Rabbit, and Li Jiabo impressed as Lewis Carrol. The student who danced the solo in the cards scene in Act 2 also deserves a special mention.

James Kronzer’s set designs are excellent, especially the backdrop resembling a cubist painting in the rabbit hole scene in Act 1. Matthew Pierce’s score was well played by the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong. Overall, a promising start to the new season, though this production lacks focus at times.

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