#Throwback Thursday: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Today's #ThrowbackThursday is a fairly recent ballet by Christopher Wheeldon: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Wheeldon based his ballet on the popular children's book by Lewis Carroll. Set in 1862, the ballet begins at a garden party, where Lewis Carroll is entertaining the three Liddell girls, Lorina, Alice, and Edith, by performing magic tricks and reading them a story. Jack, the gardner's boy, brings in a basket of roses; Alice's mother dislikes red roses, so Jack gives the spare flower to Alice. In return, Alice gives him a jam tart. Seizing on the pretext, Alice's mother (who dislikes Jack as well as his choices in rose colours) dismisses him as a thief. Carroll offers to distract a distraught Alice by taking her photograph. To her surprise, he turns into a White Rabbit and vanishes into a jelly mould. On following him, Alice falls down a dark tunnel into a corridor. Through a keyhole she spies a beautiful garden and becomes sad when she realises all the doors are locked.

Suddenly Jack, now the Knave of Hearts, runs through the corridor chased by the Queen of Hearts and her guards; he has been accused of stealing a plate of jam tarts. Alice tries to follow them through a door, but it slams in her face. She drinks from a bottle and shrinks so that she can fit through another tiny door, but becomes so small she can't reach the door handle. She eats a cake and becomes so enormous she can barely fit in the corridor. Crying in frustration, she fans herself and slowly shrinks so that she is suddenly swimming in a pool of tears. A variety of animals appear, and they are all deposited, soaked through, on land. Alice arranges a caucus race so that they can dry off, before being distracted by the reappearance of the White Rabbit.

In a cottage a Duchess tends a squealing baby while the Cook makes sausages. An invitation from the Queen of Hearts arrives, asking the Duchess to attend a croquet game. The Duchess is pleased, but the Cook is in an increasingly violent temper. Fearing for the baby's safety, Alice rescues it but it turns into a pig. The Duchess takes the creature back inside, where the atmosphere has been somewhat calmed by the appearance of the Cheshire Cat. Confused, Alice wants to follow the White Rabbit into the Queen's garden, despite the Rabbit's warnings not to. Before they can do so, the Knave runs in, still pursued by the Queen and her guards. The White Rabbit must quickly hide Alice and the Knave in the Duchess's cottage. Repulsed by the Duchess's offering of sausages, the Queen quickly leaves. The Rabbit and the Knave blindfold Alice to prevent her from following them.

In Act II, a confused Alice asks the Cheshire Cat for directions. He vaguely directs her to the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse, who are having a tea party. Finally escaping the crazy tea party, she wonders how to find the Knave. Instead she meets a caterpillar, who gives her a piece of mushroom. Alice nibbles on the mushroom and suddenly finds herself in the beautiful garden. Again the Knave appears, but their reunion is cut short by the appearance of the Queen. The Knave escapes custody, followed by the White Rabbit and Alice.

In Act III, three gardeners are hurriedly painting over roses with red paint; they have accidentally planted white roses instead of red. The Queen arrives before they are finished, and seeing the hated white roses, orders the gardeners to be executed. While the Executioner is distracted by the Cook, Alice and her friends smuggle the gardeners to safety. Meanwhile the Queen and the Duchess begin their croquet game; the Duchess is much better at the game than anyone expected, annoying the Queen. While they're playing, Alice and the Knave are reunited again. The Queen cheats at the game, and the Duchess challenges her; the Queen orders the Duchess to be executed, but while the King calms her down, Alice smuggles the Duchess away. The Knave is discovered, and while he is being hauled away for trial, the Cheshire Cat appears again, distracting everyone long enough to enable Alice to follow.

The trial begins. The Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Duchess, and the Cook are all witnesses. They all accuse the Knave of stealing the tarts, which are displayed as key evidence. The King restores order in the court to allow the Knave to speak in his own defence. His words have little effect, so Alice intervenes. Insisting he is innocent, Alice wins over everyone but the Queen. Unmoved, she gets an axe, intending to strike the blow herself. There is a chase, and Alice, toppling the characters over, reveals them to be nothing but playing cards.

Finally, Alice wakes up.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was commissioned by the Royal Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada, and premiered on 28 February 2011. The libretto was by Nicholas Wright and the music by Joby Talbot. The original cast included Laura Cuthbertson as Alice, Sergei Polunin as the Knave, Edward Watson as Carroll/White Rabbit, and Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts. Christopher Wheeldon, the choreographer, stated that his aim was to create a more light-hearted full-length ballet than some of the other works in the Royal Ballet's repertoire. The first performance was a success, though some critics commented that the special effects detracted from the dancing, and that the first act was too long. However, Wheeldon added to the dancing in 2012, and the ballet has since been extremely popular, with several companies around the world performing it in recent years. The Australian Ballet will be performing it from 12 September until 22 December this year.

Here's a snippet of the Queen of Hearts (The Royal Ballet):

And the pas de deux of Alice and the Knave (The Royal Ballet):

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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