Curiouser and curiouser. That's the kind of world Lewis Carroll created when he wrote his two 19th-century classics “Alice's Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass,” and it's a world that has intrigued and inspired visual and performing artists ever since. Ballet Nebraska's latest interpretation charmed its audience Friday at a packed IWCC Arts Center in Council Bluffs.
The production's guest choreographer was Kennet Oberly, who has often used fairy tales as points of inspiration. He created a whimsical ballet that includes all the major scenes and important characters from both books.
Costume designer Deborah Overturff created magnificent costumes, striking in conception, articulation and detail. Costume highs included Tweedledee and Tweedledum dancing comfortably in one costume and the White Knight's mighty steed, which had one dancer playing the tossing head and the other the twitching tail. The costumes for the dancing trees and flowers, maneuvering chess pieces and fluttering cards showed inventiveness.
This production included two Alices: Kelsey Schwenker as the real-world Alice, who chases the White Rabbit, and the Wonderland Alice, Erin Alarcón, who navigates each strange new encounter. Schwenker is terrific at portraying the sense of urgency of keeping up with the White Rabbit, while Alarcón alternates beautifully between being curious about and bewildered by her surroundings. Throughout the performance, the two engage in mirror dancing, poignantly balancing off each as they go through their separate albeit linked journeys.
This production was delightfully comic. Alarcón's sense of comic timing was perfect, with her facial expressions including exaggerated exasperation, confusion and frustration. Her physical comedy stole the show. Getting tangled up with the White Queen and teasingly playing with the Cheshire Cat were scenes that elicited great laughs, and the wideness of some of her gestures and movements involved great precision.
Comic stand-out performances included Sasha York as the bumbling White Knight, Claire Goodwille and Bret Samson as the Red and White Queens and Denis Vezetiu as the mischievous Cheshire Cat. On the more serious side, Natasha Grimm was enigmatically seductive and sinuous as the Caterpillar.
Children and teenagers at times stole the show. Close to 100 are included in the production. From the audibly awe-inducing snails and hedgehogs to the whirling cake and cupcakes, they added a sweet innocence to their scenes.
On a less than positive note, the trial scene, which involved the main book characters closing in on Alice while wearing stilts, was a bit ... stilted. Placing the dancers on stilts seemed awkward and clumsy and distracted from Alice's desperation as she realized she was trapped and in real peril. The scene that immediately followed had the same characters dancing together and was splendid as they began to bring Alice's adventures to a close.
Altogether, Ballet Nebraska has created a sweet, funny and well-choreographed production.