Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Sat 16th – Mon 18th June 2012


Jess Cooper

at 22:43 on 16th Jun 2012



Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, the first full-length classical ballet piece performed in Durham, runs between the 16th to 18th June. Durham University Ballet Company began two years ago, and the level of performance for such a new company was outstanding. The original and imaginative venue of the Botanical Gardens was sadly rained off, and as such the ballet was moved to Grey College’s Fountain Hall, which unfortunately was fairly cramped. The woodland setting would have really added to the spirit of the performances, but despite this, “Alice” remained a very evocative piece of dance theatre. The Company’s dancers created a really joyful performance full of strange and wonderful characters.

At a technical level, the dance pieces were very impressive for a University level. At times the dancers could have been much more expressive in their performances, particularly the lead, although saying that there were many areas at which she excelled, and she performed especially beautifully en pointe. There were several characters who added a lot to the performance; the lively dancing of the Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the engaging expressiveness of the Mad Hatter and March Hare, and most of all the Queen of Hearts. The dancer truly engaged the audience and expressed the character’s thoughts and emotions very professionally. Technically her dancing was impeccable, but most of all I was impressed with her articulacy; the Queen’s character genuinely came alive with her strong dance style and communication with the audience.

The staging was managed fairly well, with a few minor slip-ups- some clunky scene and music changes, and a few awkward exits. Aside from this, the dancer’s stage blocking was well designed and executed, with the entire company working exceptionally well together. The costumes were also amazingly inventive and entertaining. A special commendation must be made to the chorus, who undertook many scene changes and abstract representations of various aspects of the story, such as the rabbit hole and sea of tears, with grace and elegance. They brought the tale and stage to life in a way that could not have been achieved solely by the leads.

Overall this piece was highly enjoyable, skilfully designed and perfomed with strength and confidence, and I would rate it a solid 3/5.


Helen Catt

at 19:14 on 17th Jun 2012



Durham University Ballet Company created a greatly entertaining romp through Wonderland. The vignettes were nicely variegated; Slinky scenes with the Cheshire Cat followed the almost lyrical nature of the Sea of Tears. The Tea-Party had all the mad joy of the golden age of theatre; it was just as exuberantly fun as the best of good-time musicals but with none of that tricky business of dialogue. The episodic nature was broken to flow nicely by the recalling of different figures from the initial Park scene. It pays off to pay attention to the first scene. The recognition of these everyday characters gives a dream-like quality to the rest of the performance, wholly appropriate to the narcotic nature of the book. The choice of this ballet over a more traditional one was also a good call. It was accessible enough even for small children in sparkly tutus, so it's difficult to imagine anyone feeling alienated.

Becky McVeigh made a competent Alice, capably dealing with the shifts in mood and character between scenes. Of all the performers, however, I feel Danni Kane is worth a mention. Her Queen of Hearts combined icy elegance with childish petulance to create a very entertaining and nicely developed character. Some members of the cast could have worked on their expression; occasionally movements could feel a little bland. But these instances were occasional lapses - on the whole, the company was highly expressive and emotive.

It was a great pity that the venue had to be moved from the Botanic Gardens to Grey's Fountains Hall. As it was, the venue, sets and lighting left a lot to be desired. The lighting in particular could have been made really good use of to heighten the fantastical nature of the piece. The company can hardly be blamed for the poor weather, though. If the weather had held off, this paragraph would likely be replaced with one lauding the ambience of an outside arena.

The only other technical issue with the performance was the abrupt stops and starts in the music. I expect this was a result of cuts to the score. These cuts were a good idea; the performance never felt bloated or overlong. Rather it clipped along nicely in its pacing. But these stops and starts did interrupt the flow between different episodes, and even, in the case of the Caterpillar dance, within the episode. The final stop left much of the audience unsure as to whether the performance had finished. However, these are faults that can easily be ironed out as the society gains more experience; at two years old it's still a young society which, judging by tonight's success, has great things ahead.


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