We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


THE QUEEN OF HEARTS (Photo courtesy of Ballet in Cinema)

We adore story ballets but haven't seen a worthwhile one since Sir Kenneth MacMillan's 20th c. Romeo and Juliet.  Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, presented by the Joyce Theater Foundation and performed by The National Ballet of Canada, stands ready to assume the mantle of the quintessential story ballet of the 21st c.

Credit for the adaptation goes to Nicholas Wright who starts the ballet with a scene revealing the circumstances of Lewis Carroll's writing the book for young Alice Liddell--or at least a dramatic recreation of it.  He has "aged" Alice into puberty and given her a love interest, Jack the gardener's son, a choice her domineering mother is quick to dismiss.

The reviewer at The New York Times had a problem with this artistic choice (among other criticisms) but we thought it made the ballet work.  In the prologue, young Jack is given a jam tart by Alice, at which point the mother exiles him; this justifies his being tried for theft as the Knave of Hearts in the final scene of the dream.  The story itself becomes Alice's dream  in which she works through a number of issues which plague adolescents--body changes, rebellion against maternal authority, puberty, and acceptance of responsibility.

A minimal knowledge of psychoanalytic theory allows one to understand the mother's anger when Jack gives Alice a RED rose, symbolic of menarche and sexual maturity. The mother wants everything WHITE for innocence.  Alice's dream about falling down a hole can be seen as a descent into the unconscious, a place where she can work through her anxieties and wishes.

Alice's confusion is understandable as she sometimes feels smaller and unable to "open the door" and sometimes feels so large that she is crowded into a tiny space. Her guide, the White Rabbit, is unpredictable.  Her mother appears as the evil-tempered and threatening Queen of Hearts who dominates her passive husband. (Can you guess why the Queen is revolted by the Duchess' sausages?)  The King of Heart's "hail Mary pass" is Alice's wish that her father stand up to her mother. Alice's assumption of responsibility for the theft of the jam tart is an indication of her growing maturity.

Many more such references are present but it isn't necessary to recognize them to relish the wild and wonderful theatrical effects--the disappearing Cheshire cat, the Busby Berkeley flowers in the garden, the tap-dancing Mad Hatter, the tumbling cards, the voyage in a paper boat, etc. Bob Crowley's designs never failed to enchant, while telling the story.  The costumes were colorful and imaginative.

The choreography by Christopher Wheeldon's struck us as some of his best.  We particularly admired his use of humor.  In an homage to the Rose Adagio in The Sleeping Beauty, the Queen of Hearts balances on point while accepting a jam tart. Using the vocabulary of classical ballet to tell a story is an art we prize highly. Needless to say, the dancing was extraordinary.  There is incredible depth in the corp de ballet.

The music by Joby Talbot, conducted by David Briskin and performed by the New York City Ballet Orchestra,  always underscored the action.  We are not sure why The Times found this too obvious ; we enjoyed it immensely, including the sound effects which seemed to emanate from all over the Koch Theater.  Sound Design was by Andrew Bruce.  Projection Design was by Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington, Lighting Design by Natasha Katz.

(c) meche kroop

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