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Alice in Wonderland (Act I) [El Paso]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0432
Run Time
0h 48m 43s
Date Produced
"Alice in Wonderland" is a ballet in 2 acts, based on Lewis Carroll's 1865 children's book. Originally choreographed by Michael Charnley (London, 1953) to music by Joseph Horovitz. Ruth Page's version was initially called "Alice in the Garden," (not yet a full ballet) with music by Isaac Van Grove. It was premiered in 1970 at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Massachusetts. The piece was later realized as a full-length ballet: "Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass," premiered by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1971. Music for this extended version was pieced together from many composers. Its Chicago premiere was in April 1977 at the Arie Crown Theatre in the new McCormick Place.

In this undated El Paso performance of Act I, probably from the early 1970s, an introductory segment with a group of children is included.  All dancers are in costume and applause is frequently audible. 
The video begins with a shot of Alice walking to the front of the stage and sitting down with a book, while a hoarde of children, no doubt a hoarde she is ostensibly babysitting, runs onstage and begins shrieking.  The group mostly consists of little girls, but also includes one little boy, who sits down to join Alice while the others play jump rope, leapfrog, duck duck goose, etc.  He eventually rejoins them and accidentally trips one of the girls, who is at first dramatic about her "injury" but then returns to playing.  The children soon exit the stage, stealing Alice's book from her on their way out.  

As she is about to chase after them, the White Rabbit appears and performs a solo.  Intrigued, Alice follows him and "falls" down the rabbit hole: the lights dim, she spins about, and voices are heard saying "down, down, down, down."  When the lights come up again, Alice is faced with an old maid carrying a large wooden spoon, and then a nurse with a crying baby.  The two tease and taunt Alice while tossing the baby between them and sneezing.  Eventually, they exit with the baby (and the audience applauds); Alice is then joined by an amusing hat-juggler.  They dance a silly sort of pas de deux.  When the entertainment is complete, the two bow to each other while the audience applauds and she follows him offstage.

Then, a group of men (performing the roles of playing cards) enters one at a time, each carrying and/or dragging a limp female dancer (meant to be flowers).  The cards lay all the flowers on the ground where they remain lifeless, even as Alice and the White Rabbit reenter and try to revive them. Dancers apparently dressed as a butterfly and moth enter, but are ushered offstage; the three cards who then remain onstage perform an ensemble dance.  Afterwards, they begin standing up the limp flowers one by one, several of which follow them offstage as they exit.  The five remaining flowers then revive and begin to dance.   Three more then join them and one performs a brief solo at center.  The group completes its dance by splitting into two groups and striking a final 'bloom' pose; Alice enters to see them and, aloud, wishes they could talk.  The flowers swarm around her, all screaming at once, and retire to the edges of the stage as they announce Tiger Lily.

A female soloist then enters and performs a long dance with a tambourine.  When she completes it and all applaud, the flowers usher Alice offstage with them.  Another set of flowers then trickles onstage, bringing with them a large frame (meant to represent the looking glass?).  They perform a dance with the frame, rotating it several times during the dance--Alice passes through once while they do so.  When they eventually carry it offstage, Tiger Lily returns, sans tambourine, and is joined by a male partner (Passion Flower?).  They perform a lengthy pas de deux (sometimes falling out of focus).  Once they complete their dance, they bow to the audience's applause and exit.

The White Rabbit once again enters in a flurry and announces the Queen of Hearts, who then enters, followed by two lobsters.  As they dance around the stage, they are soon joined by a frog, two turtles, an owl, and eventually a snail.  Once this dance is complete and all retire to the edges of the stage, the White Rabbit introduces Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  The duo enters and performs a silly pas de deux, at one point bringing Alice in to join them for a pas de trois.  When their dance is complete and they exit, Humpty Dumpty is brought in on his wall.  He dances a precarious dance on it and inevitably falls and breaks.  He is carried offstage on his wall while the others mourn his great fall.

Next, the Queen commands Alice that it is her turn to dance; when she protests that she can't dance and doesn't know how, the Queen orders, "Off with your head!"  The Rabbit thus convinces her to reconsider so Alice tries to dance a solo, with much success.  When the rest call for an encore, she dances a dizzying finale and falls into the splits to finish.  To help out, the White Rabbit then gives her a dancing lesson, which soon becomes a pas de deux between the two.

After they complete the pas de deux, the White Rabbit announces the Catterpillar, who slinks in on his stomach, pushing his hookah in front of him.  (He is difficult to make out, as the lights are low).  As he lies on the stage and smokes languidly, two female dancers enter from the back to accompany him.  He stands and the three perform a simple ensemble dance.  At the end of the dance, the exhausted caterpillar falls to the ground at center; his companions stay with him for a bit, but then exit.  The Queen then chases him offstage, yelling "Off with his head!"  

The Queen then announces that she is bored, and commands everyone onstage to join her in dancing "The Lobster Quadrille;" all (including Alice) then come together and perform this ensemble dance.  As the dance is completed, the video falls out of focus before refocusing on a large face mounted on the back curtain.  When the camera returns to the stage itself, all but the Queen sit on the ground, bowed down.  The Queen begins to look anxious; a storm is approaching.  The group of animals + Alice slowly rise and begin to jump about as the lights flash (representing lightning).  When the storm becomes stronger, pandemonium breaks out on stage; there is much screaming and running around, but little else is visible due to the light fluctuation.

As the lights slowly begin to come back up, it becomes clear that the stage is full of limp flowers lying on the ground, as well as Alice; the rest are offstage.  Though Alice believes them to be dead, the flowers slowly begin to rise and recover from the storm.  Once all are standing, Alice declares, "That wasn't such a bad storm after all," and the flowers once again surround her, screaming.  Then the White Rabbit arrives, breaks up the group, and inaugurates a celebratory dance among the flowers.  The White Rabbit and Alice join them for a brief pas de deux and then a coda each, after which the Tweedles arrive to escort them off.  Other characters arrive for final reprises and then all, including the flowers exit to allow for a final dance by Alice and the White Rabbit.  Finally, the flowers return in rows behind them and other characters return for a final ensemble dance and final pose.  Applause is heard; the video goes black and then ends.
Additional Credit
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Van Grove, Isaac (is composer)
Related Place
El Paso (production location of)