"Alice", Take Two

Published in the June/July 2011 issue.

Christopher Wheeldon rehearses National Ballet of Canada’s Jillian Vanstone and Zdenek Konvalina in "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland"

Photo by Sian Richards

This June, National Ballet of Canada will perform Christopher Wheeldon’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was a smash hit when it premiered at the Royal Ballet in March. Pointe spoke with NBofC first soloist Jillian Vanstone, who will dance the part of Alice, about rehearsing the innovative ballet.

 

 

Tell us about Wheeldon’s take on Alice. What is she like ?

This Alice is about 15 years old, quite a bit older than the Alice in the book. She is Victorian, so she’s more sheltered and naive than a 15-year-old of today. But she’s still highly energetic, enthusiastic and curious, and she delights in all of life's simple pleasures—the flight of a butterfly, the smell of a flower, a fantastic story. She is filled with a true sense of wonder.

 

Have you re-read the Lewis Carroll books in preparation?

I actually read the book for the first time before starting rehearsals and loved it. Although it is a children's book, the language is very sophisticated, and I found the plays on words especially charming.

 

How else are you preparing for the role?

Stamina is going to be a big challeng,e so I have adjusted my exercise program to reflect that. Beyond class and rehearsal, I regularly cross-train with Pilates, gyrotonics, yoga and swimming. When I approach any role, I try to discover what the unique challenges of the role; then I ask my Pilates and gyro instructors to take that into consideration This training also helps me prevent injuries when I am working such long hours. 

 

Bob Crowley's designs have received rave reviews. What is your favorite aspect of the design?

The Chesire Cat is amazing. Each part of his body is moved individually by a dancer, and the parts separate and come together again with a fluidity that is very difficult to achieve. It looks fantastic.

 

After the premiere in London, one critic described Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as lifting the story ballet genre into the 21st century. How does it do that?

In the past, I think the Alice story may have been intimidating to choreographers and designers because of the challenge of making certain aspects of the story believable with traditional staging, such as falling down the rabbit hole and Alice shrinking and growing. But we now have access to technology that can eliminate so many of these challenges. Christopher has a wonderful imagination and has made full use of today’s technology to bring the story to life. So the work is unlike any full length story ballet before it.

 

Wheeldon makes many references to the choreography of greats like Balanchine, Ashton and Petipa in Alice.

Yes, there are so many, and on many different levels. We see a moment from Balanchine's Apollo at the tea party and a reference to Ashton's La Fille mal gardée when Alice gets frustrated in the hall of doors. Perhaps most memorable is the Queen of Hearts’ take on the Rose Adagio from Petipa's Sleeping Beauty. What is brilliant about these references is that they’re funny even to those not familiar with the original ballets.