For there to be two new ballet versions in the same season of Lewis Carroll’s Alice story, each to a commissioned score and each choreographed by a frontrunner for the directorship of the Royal Ballet, is extraordinary coincidence.
Ashley Page is coming to the enforced end of his directorship and his parting gift is his version of Alice, hot on the heels of Christopher Wheeldon’s for the Royal Ballet. Page does not enjoy Covent Garden’s resources, nor the pick of the finest dancers, but it is his version that convinces, in spite of a suspicion that Carroll’s tale is undanceable.
He does not seek to “improve” on Carroll and avoids the trap of giving Alice a love interest. Rather, he brings Carroll (sympathetically danced by Erik Cavallari) to the heart of the ballet; it is through his camera’s lens that Alice falls and experiences the bizarre episodes Page has extracted from both books. Carroll becomes a Drosselmeyer figure, and Sophie Martin’s sympathetic Alice cousine germaine to Clara in The Nutcracker. Carroll manipulates the action to take her on a journey that helps her grow up and away from him.
With that as the thread, the episodes do not have to flow logically, but the inventiveness is inconsistent. To reimagine Tweedledum and Tweedledee as a pair of malevolent schoolgirls is superb, as is the sinister executioner Jabberwock, but other sections, such as the Mad Hatter’s tea party, defeat him movement-wise.
Page’s off-kilter classical choreography often lacks meaning and would, without costume, be purely abstract, saying nothing about narrative. The costume designs by Anthony McDonald are a tour de force, with not a whiff of Tenniel, and even include a nod to Leigh Bowery for Humpty and Sebastian Horsley for the Mad Hatter. Two side walls are turned and realigned to set each scene and are lit with virtuosity by Peter Mumford. Annemarie Woods’s back-wall video designs possess just the right zany Pythonesque quality to match Carroll’s madcap concepts.
Robert Moran’s commissioned score is impressive and was played with verve by the Scottish Ballet Orchestra under Richard Honner.