We’ve been enthusiastically writing about Cleveland Ballet for a couple of years now. They’ve assembled a talented and attractive group of dancers and presented them in more and more ambitious programs. But in their latest production, Alice, which opens this weekend for two performances only, we feel that choreographer Margo Sappington has brought the company along to another level.
In Alice, the company has taken a giant step forward in the realm of characterization. In their facial expressions and in their emotions, the dancers embrace the eccentric characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and portray them with verve and commitment.
As Sappington explained at a recent studio showing, Alice is presented “like a ` circus.” There’s a big, red circle in the middle of the stage and when the dancers are outside that circle, they’re out of character: playing cards, sitting around, slipping in and out of costume. When they step into the circle, though, they’re in character and Alice’s adventures proceed like the numbers in a circus or a music hall revue. When Alice (Jenna Steiner) meets the White Rabbit (Rainer Diaz) we see Steiner ably playing the ‘straight man’ and Diaz depicting a nervous bunny who tosses off one bravura feat after another.
When Alice meets Tweedle-Dum (Elena Cvetkovich) and Tweedle-Dee (Anna Dobbins) the three perform a soft shoe number complete with attempted juggling. The dancers’ commitment to their characters sets this number apart.
Alice’s visit to the flower garden is staged like something from Ziegfeld Follies with the women depicting flowers and Alan Obuzor and Andy Sousa as bumble bees who are very much into their work, which involves a good deal of flirting. The classical dancing here is especially accomplished but again it’s the characterizations that set this number apart.
We chuckled non-stop through Act I, not least because of the eclectic, effervescent music. “Do you like my music?” asked Sappington between acts. “It’s light classical music from the BBC.” The musical collage is credited to Paul Schwartz.
Act II was a work in progress but it includes live music from (http://www.arielclayton.com/opus-216/) OPUS 216, appearing in Alice as a string quartet (Ariel Clayton Karas, violin, Diana Joiner, violin, Marlene Moses, viola, and Trevor Kazarian, cello) along with Tom Lehman, trumpet and Walt Mahovlich, accordion. Live music for the theater! Hooray!
There’s more in Act II. We watched Jason Wang as the caterpillar, lounging at voluptuous ease, then performing an Indian classical dance to sitar music. We also watched the mad tea party, a work in progress with Victor Jarvis as the Mad Hatter, Rebecca Ramirez as the March Hare, and Lüna Sayag, very funny as the Dormouse who just can’t stay awake. We had to leave before the run through was complete but we’re told Act II also includes 18 playing cards (an opportunity for members of the Youth Company to perform), the iconic croquet game with dancers portraying the flamingoes / croquet mallets and the hedgehogs / croquet balls. Lauren Stenroos is the Queen Hearts. Off with their heads!
So that’s the good news about Cleveland Ballet’s Alice. The bad news is that both shows are nearly sold out. No additional performances are planned. Good luck getting tickets.
Cleveland Ballet presents Alice at 8:00 pm Friday 5/11/2018 and 11:00 am Saturday 5/12/2018 at the Ohio Theatre. Limited tickets remaining @ $25 – $69. Go to http://www.playhousesquare.org/events.