It was a page out of the Pied Piper of Hamelin Saturday afternoon as swarms of children dressed in tutus and blue Alice-look-alike dresses skipped towards the Sottile Theater, their parents in tow. They were all headed to see one of the Charleston Ballet Theater’s first full-length ballets of the season, Alice in Wonderland.
Choreographed by the CBT’s resident choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr, this ballet had a certain buzz swirling around its debut concerning the costumes. It was only minutes after the ballet began — after the White Rabbit bounded onstage in his dazzling white structured jacket and coattails, puffy sleeves, and crushed velvet cream stockings — that the audience found the hype was well warranted.
Created by Joffrey Ballet costume designer Travis Halsey, the costumes were as stunning as they were intricate and most definitely added something special to the Wonderland experience. Ensembles like the Cheshire Cat’s face mask, tutu, and beautiful multicolored stripes from head to toe and the Caterpillar’s bulbous-shaped unitard were vital in enhancing the dreamlike story of Lewis Carroll being danced onstage.
The set design was visually stunning, opening with a landscape of roving hills covered with vibrant rows of flowers in alternating colors. With such a big stage to fill, the canvas sets were instrumental in enhancing Alice’s dream, especially when she meets the Caterpillar against a canvas backdrop of enormous life-like mushrooms. The dancers had a surface area significantly larger than that of their usual stage at the black-box theater on King Street; even against these odds, they did well to use the depth of the Sottile’s stage.
Bahr choreographed a ballet that moves well in the new space and also leaps back and forth between the imaginative levels of Alice’s dream. The movements, while not as technically difficult as they could have been, were clever in their physicality (particularly when the young Playing Cards take the stage).
Jennifer Balcerzak Muller, playing Alice, was able to embody her young character in a way that seems to always come easily, and it made her approachable in the way Alice should be. It was impossible to grow bored of the Mad Hatter (Jonathan Tabbert) as he flitted about the stage, oftentimes backed by an eerie (and appropriate) laughing track. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum rolled and wiggled in their wide-waisted costumes (imagine the hem of a hoopskirt around your middle) and silly facials, and the Queen of Hearts (Melissa Weber) was convincing as she stormed around her palace grounds, wielding a flamingo, screaming “off with her head!”
It would have been impossible for a child not to enjoy this performance, and though it is suitable for adults as well, the dance is by no means the focus. Little touches, like Alice and the White Rabbit jumping offstage (into the rabbit hole) and landing unseen on a large trampoline, and the frantic tea party — complete with oversized plastic tea cups and pots — succeed in creating a cohesive and entertaining alternate reality.