By choosing to focus on the surreal nature of Lewis Carroll’s classics, Scottish Ballet’s original production of Alice drips with imaginative visual flair and contemporary design, but as a result sacrifices a little in its narrative direction and clarity.
Conceived by Ashley Page and designer Antony McDonald, Scottish Ballet’s Wonderland is a mysterious, colourful and at times unsettling place. With a set filled with angular forced perspectives; video projections which pay homage to Buñuel and Dali (with a little bit of Gilliam thrown in); and costumes which range from the Baroque stylings of the White Rabbit to the burlesque allure of the Chesire Cat: this is undeniably a visually-striking production.
Young Alice (Sophie Martin) sits posing for a photograph for Lewis Carroll (Erik Cavallari). As the land of imagination and dream begins to take hold, she finds herself entering Wonderland not through a rabbit hole, but via a gigantic camera – the first indication of Scottish Ballet’s original and creative interpretation of the tale.
Once on the other side of the lens, the production is then played as a series of vignettes, where Alice meets the roll-call of familiar characters, each with Scottish Ballet’s unique twist.
Thus the Caterpillar (Adam Blyde) is a dashing tango instructor; whilst Humpty Dumpty (Lewis Landini) looks as though he has danced straight from the imagination of Leigh Bowery. The Queen of Hearts and her faithful suit are a little more traditionally interpreted, but the overall mood is one of a mashup of styles and influences, which does work well to create and maintain the piece’s striking design.
Alice is a modern contemporary ballet, with a great deal of the dance being expressive and interpretative, matched by Robert Moran’s structured and minimalist original score. Traditionalists will find themselves most drawn to the pas de deux between Martin and Cavallari: the former’s fluid grace representing the innocence of her character; and Cavallari’s tender strength also captivating to watch.
This, the debut of Alice, is a brave and bold production from Scottish Ballet, filled with inventive design and clever interpretation. Yet, with its surreal emphasis and contemporary direction, its narrative cohesion and emotional impact is lessened, leaving us at times as confused as Alice herself as the White Rabbit scampers past and leads her deeper into Wonderland.
Alice runs until Saturday 23 April at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre.