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There has been a glut of Tchaikovsky ballets on the London stage this Christmas, with not only performances of the inevitable Nutcracker but also presentations of Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.

But just when you thought the Tchaikovsky stranglehold over ballet’s repertoire couldn’t get any tighter, along comes another addition, with English National Ballet’s revival of Derek Deane’s 1995 production of Alice in Wonderland. It was an evening of mixed delights.

Tchaikovsky does not seem an obvious choice as composer for Alice, and it is the music, in a hotchpotch arrangement by Carl Davis, that is the weakest element in this ballet. In the context of an accompaniment to Lewis Carroll’s distinctly British novel, Tchaikovsky sounds much too emotional; surely an arrangement of Victorian parlour music or a new original score would have been more satisfactory?

Alice is also an odd choice of subject matter for a ballet. The episodic nature of the story, the lack of any central love interest, and difficulty in translating Carroll’s eccentric tale into dance can make it intractable in choreographic terms. As a consequence few productions have successfully survived on the ballet stage.

Deane, greatly assisted by his creative team of the designer Sue Blane and the illusionist Paul Kieve, achieves much by faithfully following the plot, but he also inserts several classical dances and ensembles to increase the opportunities for dancing. These are effective, but tend to look like add-ons, none more so than where Deane has created an adult “Dream Alice” character simply in order to provide a romantic pas de deux with the Knave of Hearts.

ENB are dancing with flair under the new artistic direction of Wayne Eagling, but Venus Villa, with a facial expression alternating between toothy grins and petulant pouts, is far from ideal as Carroll’s original Alice. The best dancing came from Sarah McIlroy’s enjoyably nasty Queen of Hearts and Maria Kochetkova’s sweetly droopy Dormouse.

As seasonal entertainment the ballet is pleasant enough, but lacks substance.
★★★☆☆
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