wed 25/05/2016

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Royal Ballet | Dance reviews, news & interviews

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, The Royal Ballet

World premiere of an incurious ballet maxing-out on design and music

The Royal Ballet's new Alice: A design-led production surrounded as copiously by flying cheques as Alice is surrounded by flying playing cardsAll photographs © Charlotte MacMillan

Some ballets are drugs in themselves - you’re under their sway no matter what the performance. Other ballets need drugs to help. This new Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is definitely of the second kind, a very odd, very shallow, very bright and brilliantly bold staging, that makes no sense, that offers no depth, but which I suspect would be a blast if one were slightly stoned. But to slip a complimentary spliff under the programme's whirligig cover would take it out of the small-children Christmas market that I guess this enterprise is to occupy with the same massive box-office success as the cod-Ashton animalfest Tales of Beatrix Potter.

Possibly this production came into being in giggly sessions between Christopher Wheeldon and his composer, designer and dramaturg, surrounded as copiously by flying cheques as Alice is surrounded by flying playing cards, but rather more brainwashed than she is by the chimera that stage design will answer all problems. (See Charlotte MacMillan's full production portfolio on theartsdesk.)

Shrinking_roomIt looks reassuringly expensive, as you'd expect of the first new full-length ballet at the Royal Ballet since Twyla Tharp’s Mr Worldly Wise in 1995. You never saw such a lot of props, video and scenery (Bob Crowley) - even the trees take a bow at the curtain calls. There is a mansion house and garden set, a swirling video thingumajig for the rabbit hole and a cunning shrinking room (pictured left, Sarah Lamb as Alice © Charlotte MacMillan), the Duchess’s Grand Guignol kitchen stuffed with huge pig carcasses, castles of playing cards, gardens of flowers and seas of tears, teapots and teacake pouffes. The characters are unstintingly costumed in mad hats, furry ears and whiskers (main picture), with glorious flamingo girls, hedgehog children and a Cheshire cat manipulated by puppeteers. The backcloths, lit in eyewatering primary colours, drop in and out like Christmas cards being stacked on an empty mantelpiece - an embroidered sampler house here, a cut-out garden maze there - the stage’s black wings uninvitingly cancelling out any real travel of the imagination from one place to the next.

Much show, but with the White Rabbit's sense of timing. The first act is a diarrhoeic 70 minutes - even MacMillan’s toughest dramas drew stumps at 45 minutes per act. This is a gigantic orchestra with weird percussion and ram's-horn trumpets emitting a positive Niagara Falls of picturesque music, two hours’ worth. Joby Talbot’s been known for the relative economy of film and TV music before, but for his industry, zeal and vigorously eclectic story-painting - with Prokofiev jokes and even Minkus jokes - he’s man of the match, though an extraction to a 45-minute concert suite wouldn't be a bad idea. The Royal Opera House orchestra under Barry Wordsworth also deserve bouquets for their infectiously bouncy delivery.

The first act is a diarrhoeic 70 minutes - even MacMillan's toughest dramas drew stumps after 45 minutes per act

Share this article


Hi David, I just caught your response. As for needing to 'get out into more interesting places more' - I am fortunate enough (and I really mean that) to have seen all sorts of art over the years performed/ exhibited in opera houses, concert halls, galleries, street corners, bedrooms, clubs, pubs, bars, temples, chapels, cathedrals, muddy fields, warehouses ..... and not to forget all those wonderful 'spaces' ;) So I hope I do not have a limited world view of the arts in London or anywhere else (of course all our world views are by definition limited, but you know what I mean). And my concerns are not just with mainstream or establishment arts, in fact most of the 'innovation' and 'vibrancy' of fringe/ left field/ avant garde etc these days is (to me at least) extremely superficial - and underneath this superficial buzz ALL of the creative arts seems to be getting more and more obedient to dumbed down and increasingly shallow and meaningless trends set primarily by the (largely corporate controlled) mainstream. The way I see it, because the corporate controlled mainstream media/ entertainment industries are so all pervasive and powerful today, all they really have to do is drop an idea/ concept/ style into mainstream culture and it is immediately bounced back like sonar by zillions of ambitious, success-hungry (fame monster) left field, independent 'cool' artists trying to tap into what is culturally 'now'. It will then appear that everything is evolving naturally and in a sense it is, and yet ultimately it is all being steered (or at least guided) by one hand..... ... OK, maybe six hands! Yes I am simplifying, but that doesn't mean it's not happening as described, albeit in a much more chaotic way. The problem is that we are all trapped by the power of consensus. The sky is blue because it just IS and so there is nothing more worth saying about it. In the same way some naff trend, or completely dumbed down culture or talentless, whining, brat of a celebrity is our 'culture' unquestioningly, because it just IS and there's nothing more to say about that either. We can see it - it's in our faces every day and we all grew up with it evolving before our eyes - and so it must be that way naturally. But having looked into it, I disagree. I say it's the way it is largely by design. And when culture/ society is manipulated and manufactured (fake) then any honest artistic comment on that culture / society must also become part of that fakery...... hence this culture where everything is fake and rubbish and no one can quite put their finger on why this is. After all, IT MAKES NO SENSE that in this advanced 21st century age we live in our 'cultural syntax' should be reduced to the level of a small child (minus the imagination and innocence), and more often than not a whining spoilt brat. The media encourages us to love or hate a movie/ film star/ artist/ cultural trend etc but it never encourages us to think about WHY things have gotten this way, how did it happen... who's driving the bus as it were. The message is this: don't question, don't question, don't question... In fact the corporations not only create the majority of our hugely influential mainstream cultural content, but they also criticize it all for us too.... or at least they get the ball rolling in that department. Certainly it's true that millions of people NEVER EVER think outside the parameters set by the mass media, regarding culture, politics, social issues, science, philosophy etc. Don't you think the arts might be a bit different if corporations were not controlling millions of people's minds in this way 24/7 for their entire lives now??! I see our entire culture (and all the art which arises in response to it) as being as fluid and arbitrary as the mood and activities going on in a shared student house. In a house of ten people if I can control just two of them, I can massively manipulate the mood (the culture) of that entire house - ESPECIALLY if no one is aware I even have such an agenda and that those two people are plants who are working for me... or perhaps just people I have selected because I know they are naturally inclined to behave one way (for instance like superficial, drunken, self obsessed, morons!). And what if I made sure they were also physically stunningly attractive. Just think how easy it would be to manipulate the culture of such a shared house in this way. And isn't that EXACTLY what corporate mass media and entertainment does to every home in the developed (and developing) world? Who would let a complete stranger into their homes to spend all evening ranting at them and performing idiotic skits and then tell them what to think about world events? And yet millions allow the TV to do this every night! And those who control the mass media/ entertainment never even thought to take advantage of this opportunity to shape society to better fit in with their corporate fascist ideology? But I forgot, there's can't be a conspiracy! Of course there can't be - that would be ridiculous! Especially if you simply label it a 'Freemasonic conspiracy???' and put three question marks after it (as you did - lol). Actually on the subject of the freemasons, I must say I do find it fascinating that a secret society should be regarded as a 'ridiculous place' in which to find conspiracies operating! Especially as Freemasons make up a sizable part of the police, judicial, political, corporate and media structures in modern society. And again we are dealing with the power of consensus. Freemasons are not even worth discussing because as we all know there is nothing to discuss. The proof being they are never mentioned on the news... which ... is... part of .. the ... freemasonic .. controlled .. media..... oh ... hang on a minute... let me think about that one, again.... But seriously, most freemasons are not part of any giant conspiracy. How can they be?! Most Freemasons never get past level 3 (of at least 33 levels) and most haven't even got a clue what freemasonry is really about (at the top levels) either! Most freemasons are at the office temp, janitor, the toilet cleaner level of freemasonry. The truth is these kinds of secret societies were all infiltrated centuries ago and are now used by those who now control them to filter the most psychopathic, obedient, soulless and heartless people and bring them up through the hierarchy levels of the pyramid, while the majority of essentially good (or at least low level corrupt!) people are left in the lower levels to socialize and cut small time deals with each other at the broad base of the pyramid. Hierarchy and compartmentalization tend to lead to exactly this kind of corruption and deception every time. And our entire society is based on these kinds of structures! Not just secret societies but politics, media, corporations, military, police, schools.. everything! They're all secret societies really when you think about it. (Just a coincidence honest!) BTW Tony Blair is said to be a 33rd degree Freemason - I rest my case. So this secret organization which no one talks about (because there is nothing to say!) has its lodges all over the world - in fact anyone going to see Alice at the ROH can check out the HUGE Freemasonic headquarters on Great Queen Street (possibly a reference to Queen Semiramis), next to the Prince of Wales (another high ranking freemason) and 'The Sun' tavern (yet more important freemasonic symbolism), not to mention being bang next door to the 'Freemason's Arms' on Long Acre. But remember, despite this sort of thing their influence on the world is non existent, otherwise we'd know. (Isn't false logic wonderful!) Did you know that some police stations actually have freemasonic pillars outside their entrances. There's a statue of Manly P Hall outside the main Washington police station I believe. And as we all know, all police hats (sleeves, squad cars etc) have the Freemasonic black and white checkerboard band wrapped around them. (Don't tell me you didn't know that checkerboard was freemasonic. Such basic facts are known in all remaining non freemasonic controlled pockets of society!). But enough with the freemasonry conspiracy talk - let's have some music! and an advert for MTV with no hidden meanings. Honest. Obviously just a coincidence... let's see an MTV award ceremony instead MTV... 'Masonic TV'? ... 'empty TV'? ... indoctrinating the young minds into material worshipping dead soulless dumbed down zombies who are easy to manipulate and control by mega corporations ... surely not!? The mass media consensus says this is all just harmless 'entertainment' - what do YOU think though? Do you remember 'you' ... that person who wakes up and comes alive only after you've switched off the TV! Check out the music videos, Hollywood films, corporate logos, architecture and other articles on this site and make up your own mind. But Freemasonry is only one kind of secret society - and like I say most freemasons haven't got a CLUE what kind of organization they are stuck at the bottom of - the Lucifarian philosophy only gets revealed after you have proven your loyalty to the point where you're more loyal to the freemasons that your fellow men. And a lot of these puppet pop/movie stars have no idea (especially the young ones), although many do know what they are involved in, but hey that's what all the unjustified money and success is for! Why on earth do you think people like Blair can commit war crimes and then swan about writing biographies and lecturing like he's totally invulnerable? Answer: because his loyalty was always to the Brotherhood who brought him up through the hierarchy, put him in power, gave him his orders and who now protect him from prosecution (and thus protect themselves) - including giving him a nice £10 million a year salary for 'services rendered'. And as many have noticed even when in office his outgoings WAY exceeded his official income. Looking at the state of the world today, where all the (s)elected world 'leaders' ends up doing the exact OPPOSITE of what they had promised to do when campaigning or in opposition, wouldn't it be more appropriate to say this: And what's all this about it NOT all being a Freemasonic conspiracy??? But freemasons are just one small piece of the puzzle. I suggest looking at the (media, entertainment, political, business) membership of other secretive groups such as the CFR (and researching what Carroll Quigley wrote about them). Look at corporate logos too, here let whet your appetite. HISTORY OF THE CFR & THE MODERN CORPORATE MEDIA Here's the bit about our god fearing world 'leaders' running around in the forest conducting mock child sacrifices to Moloch - wouldn't that make a good ballet? Or how about Princess Dianna's death - wouldn't that would make a stunner of a ballet! But I guess it's just not interesting enough... so let's just stick to repeating some 150 year old story for the big ballet companies and walking about the stage in grey underwear on bare stages with little slits of light and plasma screens and stuff for the modern companies. Hooray for art! Anyway, at least we established there's definitely no conspiracy. Even if sometimes it looks and feels a bit like there is one sometimes. But the best way to stick with the consensus world view and deny the existence of any high level naughty behaviour by greedy people with lots of money and influence and way too much time on their hands is to follow this simple rule: If it's intriguing factually based conspiracy evidence that we have not come across before we should automatically dismiss it, but if it's corporate controlled mass entertainment or mass media information we should accept it all at face value without questioning any of it.
Art with an F, you need to get out into the more interesting places more, starting with establishment bastions the Royal Opera (which is more or less your Alice venue, OK) and English National Opera, then try the fringe. You make some interesting points, and you're a great read in yourself - I'm guessing you're also the 'Pop Mum with Kids' - but you're limiting your worldview of the arts, at least as they're practised in London. And what's all this about a Freemasonic conspiracy???
I saw the dress rehearsal on Monday morning and thought it was wonderful. Super in every way what do the critics want ? Not what the audience want obviously! As Noel coward said " if I really cared what the critics said I would have shot myself in the 30's " ........ Jennifer Haley
I was there last night, and I can understand where you are coming from, as there was a lack of character between the scenes, and too much emphisis on technology. However, I loved the 2nd act. The choreography for Alice and Jack/The Knave was wonderful, the "card tutus" and flamingos had some very detailed and interesting steps and I thought the rose adagio parady had perfect comic timing. However, it will be interesting to have another viewing without the atmosphere of a gala. I didn't stand up at the end, but I can understand why people did, because it was beautifully danced and lighhearted. Art with an F: I would suggest it is not about the subject that you convey, it is about the quality of the choreography, new work about ground breaking issues is being done by the RB. And why can't people have escapism and be concerned about current issues at the same time?
Has Alice not been done enough already? And more to the point, is this *real world* we live in not upside down, back to front and completely crazy enough that a successful, meaningful, poignant and stunningly effective ballet could be made about things happening right here and now? Do we really need to go down that well worn fantasy rabbit hole *yet again* when we live in a society and in a real world absolutely full of genuine rabbit holes?! Has everyone completely forgotten what the arts are supposed to be for? Is art really just about updating a mobile library's worth of ancient 'classic' works over and over and over and over and over again? Can we not make something new, relevant, intelligent original and MEANINGFUL!!!!?? And if we are able - why aren't we? Is the real world not curious (and curiouser) enough -bursting as it currently is with uprisings, revolutions, corruption and deception being exposed at the highest levels, false flag terrorism and illegal wars with their resultant genocide already passing the million dead mark? Are not the attempts to dismantle the entire social, industrial and economic fabric of all developed nations based on phony environmental science by 'leaders' who like to dress up in red robes and perform mock child sacrifices in front of a 40 foot stone owl every year in Northern California (google Bohemian Grove) somehow not 'interesting' or 'relevant' enough to deserve some kind of reflection and contemplation in our arts? OUR arts? What about the biggest bank robbery in human history (by the banks themselves no less!) and their tying up of all the world's economies in preparation for their imminent and collective destruction and no doubt their biggest consolidation of wealth yet. I'm sure when the economy crashes people will be losing their homes and starving by the tens of thousands .... is that somehow still not 'engaging' enough that we should all flock instead to watch a ballet (another remake, another repeat) about some girl, a bunch of hallucinogens left lying about and a Chesire cat made some 150 years ago? Honestly .... anybody would think our entire culture from Hollywood movies to corporate TV shows and pop music through to our beloved, 'vibrant' but safely neutered 'Arts and Culture' scene was all heavily controlled and censored in order to keep us all endlessly distracted, dumbed down while normalizing this insane world around us and (certainly in the case of Hollywood) predictively programming us all to accept each now insane development at least a decade before it intrudes upon our increasingly precarious lives. Is this a fair (rough and simplified) approximation of our so called culture? If so WHY? Catagory One 'Saccharine magical', occult, freemasonic, fairy tale (Alice in W, Harry Potter, Charmed, Oz, most Disney, Being Human, corporate pop and rap music) Catagory Two Technological/ militaristic/ police enforcement celebrations with strong transhumanism/ dehumanization elements (Terminator, Avatar, Robocop, Star Wars, Infra, at least half of modern dance, Independence day, Toy Story, Tron, Spooks, CSI, corporate pop and rap music) Catagory Three Annoying, moronic, materialistic, narcissistic brats obsessed with social Darwinistic competitiveness and status and often 'ego sex' too (Black Swan, Bridget Jones, all rom coms, X-factor and all game shows, Master Chef, at least half of modern dance, Big Bruvva, Hanna Montana, corporate pop and rap music etc) I'm sure many people will already be thinking, "yeah, but what else is there to life?" Exactly.
when you think of what with Fille mal G Ashton managed in terms of character, choreography story-telling on one hundredth of the budget - Alice begins to make me feel a bit sick for future of ballet (attack of Homansitis)

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
By submitting this form, you accept the Mollom privacy policy.

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters