Auditorium Theatre

March 16-17, 1987

The last time the National Ballet of Canada appeared in Chicago was in 1979, when it performed Swan Lake at one of Geraldine Freund’s extravagant International Ballet Festivals of Stars. NBC finally returned last week with Alice, an absolute beauty of a ballet, danced with great style, immaculate virtuosity, and an emotional integrity that gave every gesture and movement artistic significance.

Alice–choreographed by Glen Tetley to David Del Tredici’s Pulitzer Prize-winning score, Child Alice Part I: In Memory of a Summer Day–was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But Tetley’s Alice goes far beyond reintroducing the audience to the fantastic, whimsical creatures that inhabit the books, or merely describing their individual, bizarre personalities.

Tetley has probed deeper, and taken a sensitive look into the hearts of Carroll–actually the Reverend Charles Dodgson, a shy, stuttering mathematics don at Oxford–and Alice, the ten-year-old girl for whom he invented the stories. That Dodgson was preternaturally fond of young girls, whom he enjoyed photographing–some unclothed–has been well documented, but it’s unlikely that his pedophilia took a more active form. But there is no question that he was inordinately fond of Alice Liddell, the daughter of an academic colleague. Fortunately for posterity, he seems to have sublimated his affection for Alice by creating the miraculous wonderland that immortalized her.

Tetley has treated the relationship between Alice and Carroll as a love story that transcends time. It is a dream in which the adult Alice relives the past, along with her childish alter ego, and realizes that her childish emotions were actually a deep love that still haunts her.

The White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Dormouse, March Hare, Caterpillar, and many other denizens of Wonderland join Alice and Carroll, thus mixing human emotions with witty, wise, sometimes cruel, but always cleverly imaginative fun. Anthony Randazzo, who danced both Hargreaves, Alice’s husband trying to draw her out of her nostalgic romantic dreams, and the Caterpillar, was remarkable in the latter role, slithering across the stage in a most imaginative choreographic demonstration of propulsion.

Kimberly Glasco danced Child Alice with a fascinating mix of coquetry and innocence, demonstrating dramatic depth with uninhibited childish obliviousness to her own charms. Rex Harrington, as Carroll, danced with remarkable poetic and romantic fervor as he is drawn to both the young and adult Alice. Harrington is remarkably handsome, as well as an accomplished virtuoso dancer of great classic style and strength.

Karen Kain, NBC’s prima ballerina, has never been so passionately committed to a role. Her dancing is luminous and her personality radiant, both in her present life with her husband and torn by regret over the long-lost past with Carroll. At the very close, as the aged Alice, she picks up a glove that the White Rabbit has dropped, and fantasy and reality meet in a poignant conclusion.

Alice is not really a children’s ballet, but it is enchanting. Nadine Baylis’s costumes, which mimic Tenniel’s illustrations, were delightful, as were the eccentric movements of the bizarre creatures, in particular the three ladies who dance the Lobster Quadrille in slinky red gowns Carmen Miranda-style.

Alice is almost an hour long, but it exerts such a strong emotional pull that the time passes magically. Del Tredici’s music fits the dance as though it had been written for it, although it’s part of a more extensive work. Great musical understanding was shown by Ermanna Florio, who conducted, and Diane Walker, who sang the words of the poem that introduces volume two of the book.

Alice was preceded by a transcendently poetic performance of George Balanchine’s Serenade. In the eight years since NBC danced here the company has not only matured tremendously in technique, but evolved into a truly beauteous ensemble.

Unhappily, the most disappointing piece was the White Swan pas de deux from Swan Lake, danced by guest stars Natalia Makarova and Jim Sohm of the San Francisco Ballet. Performed out of dramatic context, the duet lacked emotional impact and seemed quite mannered. Alice and Serenade would have been enough to make the evening memorable.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Andrew Oxenham.