Dance Review: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Alice in Wonderland' offers family-style energy and escape
February 11, 2017 4:51 PM
Cooper Verona as Mad Hatter, Amanda Cochrane as Alice, Masahiro Haneji as March Hare, and Diana Yohe as Dormouse.
By Jane Vranish / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” So goes a line from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” the most quoted of all children’s books and a quintessentially British one at that.
Now Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre saw fit to bring back the magic of Derek Deane’s version to the Benedum Center, where it had its North American premiere here in 2008. A lot has happened, however, since the year that the stock market went down its own rabbit hole and Barack Obama was first elected president.
The perception of “Alice” changed as well. Tim Burton gave his own off-the-wall interpretation in a 2010 film starring Johnny Depp. And current choreographic superstar Christopher Wheeldon used Alice’s family, set up during the opening scene, to populate her dream, along with computerized special effects and clever inserts (puppet flamingos and ballerinas with flamingo arms) and parodies (a Queen who does a beautifully overwrought version of “Sleeping Beauty’s” Rose Adagio).
The Deane rendering, given permission by Alice herself to “run wild with my imagination,” is now an old-fashioned romp through this British classic, ripe with an over-the-top music hall flavor, including Alice’s wide-open reactions to everything around her (played with nifty facial exclamations by Amanda Cochrane) and, of course, the obligatory man in drag (Corey Bourbonniere’s lavishly funny Duchess).
Like other British ballets that have gone before, most notably The Royal Ballet’s “Tales of Beatrix Potter,” this ballet has delicious three-dimensional costumes and colorful settings (particularly for the well-staged Tea Party), here by Sue Blanc.
Mr. Deane hit all the high points — from a surreal transition to Wonderland, replete with torso-less tutus and floating teapots, to the Rose Garden, dominated in no uncertain terms by a glamorous villainess, Queen of Hearts Julia Erickson. And he filled things in with quick-witted footwork for which the British are known, sometimes translated as bourrees for the women and tiny runs for the men.
It was all cast in the episodic arrangement of the book, but which occasionally felt disjointed in the ballet. Likewise with the Tchaikovsky pastiche arranged by Carl Davis, strikingly familiar (was that “Swan Lake”?), but better deserving of an original score for a highly original book.
Derek Deane’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’
When: 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Feb. 17-18; 2 p.m. Saturday, next Sunday and Feb. 18-19; and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14.
Where: Benedum Center, Downtown.
Tickets: Start at $28 at pbt.org, 412-456-6666 or the Box Office at Theater Square, Downtown.
Information: For a list of pre- and post-show talks with PBT staff and artists, visit pbt.org/learn-and-engage.
This was all like a lavish buffet at Mr. Deane’s own tea party. If you didn’t like one thing, another could quickly catch your eye. The best treats, in addition to those listed above, included Diana Yohe (Dormouse), whose legs are working with the precision of a Swiss Army knife, and Jessica McCann (Cook), whose animated posterior took on a life of its own at the stove.
And there was never time to forget about Yoshiaki Nakano’s White Rabbit, who always provided a burst of energy during his numerous episodes. There were beats aplenty for him, all executed with clarity despite wearing MC Hammer-like drop-crotch pants.
Some might have found the entertainment style, with its choreographic volume always set on high, to be tiring. Others probably found this family-style energy a great escape, as the opening night audience on Friday seemed to feel.
After all, it’s a way to “keep calm, we’re all mad here.”
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present “Alice in Wonderland” through Feb. 19. For more information, call 412-456-6666 or go online at www.pbt.org.