After a phenomenally successful 2011 London premiere, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is coming to Australian stages. The three-act ballet elegantly captures the whimsy of Lewis Carroll’s original story through dazzling theatrics. Textured lighting, mind-bending projections, intricate costumes and, above all, precise human movement.

Hundreds of people work behind the scenes on a theatrical production of such scale. For Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Australian Ballet has worked with the original creatives from London’s Royal Ballet. Distinguished choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and composer Joby Talbot have been working tirelessly with the Melbourne crew, bringing the show back to life for a new audience. We spoke to three departments at The Australian Ballet about their final week of rehearsal.

Amber Scott, principal artist (in the role of Alice)
“I’m kind of a child of the institution,” Amber Scott recalls. “I started dancing at the Australian Ballet school when I was 11, and the full-time school when I was 14. Then I joined the company. I’ve been here 17 years now. I kind of rose through the ranks.”

In her tenure as principal artist, Scott has performed in spectaculars such as The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker. She believes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to be the most lavish show to date.

“It’s a huge production, with all the sets and the projection and the lighting. Our technical crew have their rehearsals during the day, and at the same time the dancers are on stage going through the choreography. It’s pretty busy, so you’ve got to keep your thinking cap on.

“[Wheeldon] has a strong classical technique as his base, but it’s always driven by the narrative. Keep the story going, never drop the character. And, because Alice is on every page of the original book, throughout the entire show you have to be aware that it’s her action and her decisions that drive the story.

“Now is when the different departments that have been working off-site, in wardrobe or in marketing, all congregate in the theatre. It’s good to start seeing that, because the show is not just dance. It relies on all these elements that make ballet what it is.”

David McAllister, artistic director
“Once we do the opening night, [Wheeldon] and his choreography team all head off the next day,” David McAllister explains. “We’re doing this in co-production with The National Ballet of Japan, they’re all off to Tokyo to start casting and do that whole process again. So the circus rolls out of town, and we’re left to keep it all chugging along.”

This handover period is integral to the production. The Australian Ballet need to maintain the production’s consistency with Wheeldon’s original vision, while remaining committed to their role as a national touring company.

“Now we have a week of just working on completely physical, technical aspects of the production … Because we have several casts, we’re making sure that each of the people that play central characters know where they get changed, and that can become very detailed.”

“See, wonderland is a bit of a crazy world, where everything is a bit topsy-turvy and anything can happen. This lends itself really well to ballet because we do fantasy well. That’s our most productive area when it comes to storytelling. It makes some really great images to work with for ensemble dances.”

Sukie Kirk, costume design associate
“We’ve had to consider the practicalities of packing everything up and moving it around,” says Sukie Kirk. “With a few of the costumes we’ve looked at how the construction can be slightly changed. So that it doesn’t look any different, but it can stand the rigours of being packed, unpacked and moved around for the national tour, in a way the original costumes might not have needed to do.”

To create the intricate costumes (for the likes of The Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and The Queen of Hearts) Kirk works with a team of 20 cutters. They’re sewing tirelessly, while another four department pros are fiddling with jewellery, headdresses and hedgehog spines.

“Everything ramps up once we get to these stage rehearsals. We start to see everything where it’s meant to be seen, with the correct lighting. Something might need a tweak. It might be a technical thing, or it could be visual. That’s my job, to make sure the costume both works and looks how the designer [Bob Crowley] originally wanted it to look.”

“It’s interesting watching from backstage … It’s almost like a dance. It’s just as much of a performance because of the people having to be in certain places to make precise changes or move props. It’s just as well orchestrated as what’s happening on the stage.”

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland will be performed at the Arts Centre September 12 to 30.

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