Alice in Wonderland – Reviewed
Caroline Gaunt is enchanted by Durham University Ballet Company’s stunning production
Alice in Wonderland is Durham University Ballet Company’s first full-length production, which is hard to believe when you’re watching something so technically proficient.
It’s a production with such stunning highs that they almost manage to erase the lows – but nevertheless, it’s not perfect, and whilst no one can deny that it’s gorgeous to look at, there are areas which could use a little improvement.
Despite a few synchronisation issues and some wobbly standing legs, visually the show is a triumph, boasting some incredibly subtle and conceptually realised scenes: the sea of tears and the fall down the rabbit hole are stunning highlights here. Every scene appears lovingly crafted, with intelligent, sharp choreography impeccably danced, and costumes which, far from being simply functional, enhance the storyline in their own right (again the sea of tears is an obvious example). Furthermore, considering the size of the corps, the dancers manage to navigate the (very small) Assembly Rooms’ stage skilfully.
There is no awkwardness here – the dancers jeté and pirouette their way around the stage as if it was twice its actual size. If the only function of ballet was to create something beautiful to watch I would be awarding DU Ballet Company every accolade I could – but, as I see it, a successful ballet requires a marriage of aesthetics and characterisation, and whilst the company are undeniably strong in the former, the latter often tends towards the disappointing.
In many respects the company are lucky that Alice has such a distinctive storyline, because, despite the choreography’s best efforts to the contrary, Becky McVeigh, as the eponymous lead, is frequently nowhere near expressive enough to communicate the narrative to the audience. Simply dancing beautifully is not enough, and whilst McVeigh performs with an exquisite grace and has a fair stab at encapsulating Alice’s confusion and bewilderment, the result is somewhat half-hearted. Similarly, the Mad Hatter’s tea party has nowhere near enough tangible panache and… well, madness, to make it stand out for the riotous scene it is intended to be. Tweedeldum and Tweedeldee have excellent choreography with obvious hints at their mischievous nature, but Mary Kinsella and Ellie Roberts never seem to connect to it as characters.
This, does, however, read like a very damning indictment of a cast which boasts some truly excellent gems. Danni Kane as the Red Queen is simply brilliant: by turns sharp and commanding and later, convincingly petty, hers stands out as a character developed beyond the choreography. Katie Collett as the Duchess is similarly excellent, remaining brilliantly smarmy and snooty throughout. I cannot begin to imagine how difficult it is to try to act convincingly, with no handy dialogue to help the story along, at the same time as maintaining beautiful footwork and lines, but there is a conscious dichotomy between the performers who manage to achieve both and those who fall a little short.
Nevertheless, I commend Durham University Ballet Company for bringing such a technically impressive and beautiful production to the Assembly Rooms’ stage. Ballet having long been neglected in conjunction with Durham Student Theatre, I hope that this performance heralds a long run of similar productions – I for one will be first in the ticket queue.