Choreographed for the English National Ballet in 1995, Derek Deane’s Alice in Wonderland might be the most elaborate ballet production ever based on Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novel. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s performance this past Friday, with its 90 costumes, 18 wigs, 30 prosthetic pieces, hand-painted sets and array of vintage magic tricks and illusions, made for a grand spectacle.
Deane’s classical-ballet choreography for Alice was technically impeccable and somewhat challenging; it was also at times dry and uninspired, long on flash but at times short on interest. Still, it was engaging often enough and, coupled with the visuals, Alice proved why it was box-office gold for ENT, and then for PBT when the company first performed it in 2008.
Set to a mashup of obscure Tchaikovsky compositions compiled and added to by Carl Davis, Deane’s family-friendly Alice stayed faithful to the spirit of Carroll’s very familiar tale. Amanda Cochrane was endearing as the caring but petulant Alice, who pouted, stamped her feet, and bossed around the inhabitants of Wonderland. Alice’s meatiest dancing, however, came in a dream sequence with girlhood crush the Knave of Hearts (William Moore) that was danced not by Cochrane, but rather by “Dream Alice” — Alexandra Kochis, who shined.
Alice’s adventure had many stops, including choosing which door to open among many; drinking potions to make her big and small; and interacting with the White Rabbit (Yoshiaki Nakano), the hookah-smoking caterpillar (Joseph Parr) and a cavalcade of fish, fowl and fauna. But the most interesting were her encounters with Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev as the slinky Cheshire Cat, and with tea-party characters the March Hare (Masahiro Haneji), Mad Hatter (Cooper Verona) and a bubbly-sleepy Diana Yohe as the Dormouse.
Were it not for Julia Erickson’s deliciously wicked performance as the Queen of Hearts, the tandem of Corey Bourbonniere (Duchess) and Jessica McCann (Cook) might have stolen the show. McCann’s frenetic and animated portrayal of the crazed pepper-grinder-wielding cook was outstanding.
Led by Erickson’s masterful performance, the second act, at the Queen’s court, was the Alice audiences crave — full of royal pomp and circumstance, the ballet’s finest choreography, and a zany gathering of all the characters that had the audience losing its head with delight.