Monday, November 12, 2012


JOHN COULBOURN, Special to TorSun
12 NOV 2012
R: 5/5

Pictured: Sonia Rodriguez

It's common knowledge that love is better the second time around. But it turns out love's not the only thing that can be improved by a second turn around the block.

Case in point: The National Ballet of Canada's much-lauded production of choreographer Christopher Wheeldon's ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND — their latest full-length story ballet produced in association with London's Royal Opera House, currently making its second appearance on the stage of the Four Seasons Centre, where it opened Saturday night. It had it's Canadian première there back in June of 2011 — and in between, it's even clocked a few frequent flyer points, having checked in and wowed them in Los Angeles earlier this fall.

In fact, it was in Tinseltown that choreographer Wheeldon made a few tweaks to this tale wrapped in a tale, then wrapped in yet another tale — changes that seem to tie it all together and make it more of a piece, adding a lovely and loving pas de deux between the young heroine, danced with impressive grace by the evergreen Sonia Rodriguez on Saturday night, and her dual love interests, Jack the gardener and the Knave of Hearts, both danced by the equally impressive Naoya Ebe in a memorable debut.

Wheeldon's changes serve finally to put the romantic pair squarely in the the heart of his story, where before, in a scenario hewn from Lewis Carroll's enduring children's adventure by playwright Nicholas Wright and set to original music composed by Joby Talbot, they were more or less the bookends of Alice's curiouser and curiouser adventures. There are other changes too, most notably a memorable entrance to the enchanted world of the Mother/Queen of Hearts (Xiao Nan Yu, exhibiting a fine flair for comedy) through an oversized jellied confection that should over-ride all parental injunctions against playing with one's food.

For the rest, it is substantially the same as previously staged — good news for all of those who fell prey, the first time around, to the combined and potent magic of Wheeldon's often frenetic choreography and the design vision of Bob Crowley, aided by the lighting of Natasha Katz and the projections of Jon Driscoll and Gemma Carrington.

It's good news too, for those who enjoy the National Ballet's stable of superb dancers, led here by Aleksandar Antonijevic, cast as both Carroll and the enigmatic white rabbit and finding a lovely balance in both. There's fine work too, from the likes of Rex Harrington, hamming it up in the role of Father/King of Hearts; from Robert Stephen as a tap-happy Mad Hatter; from Jiří Jelinek as a sensuous Caterpillar and from a host of others as well. And this is, as usual, all borne aloft by the seemingly flawless efforts of the NBOC Orchestra, masterfully conducted once again, by David Briskin. In the final analysis, while Wheeldon hasn't found new depths to his artistry, in fine tuning his Alice, he's certainly given her more lustre.

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