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Alice in Wonderland (Act I) - Costume modeling [1974, Chicago, Beverly Arts Center]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0479
Run Time
0h 45m 35s
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," also sometimes referred to as "Alice through the Looking-glass." 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, with costumes by André Delfau.

The first part of this video represents a rehearsal of Act I from "Alice in Wonderland" that took place several years earlier, on January 25, 1974 in Chicago's Beverly Arts Center.  Everyone but the dancers playing Alice and the Queen of Hearts wear practice clothes.  This rehearsal suggests that perhaps a version of the full ballet premiered prior to 1977.  

The second part of the video appears to be a rehearsal of the children's dance that sometimes served as the opening for the full Alice in Wonderland ballet.  All but Alice are in costume.

The third part of the video seems to represent a record of the costumes made for Alice in Wonderland, as it consists solely of characters turning in place, one by one, at the same spot on a stage. 
The video begins with a shot of a stage, onto which the White Rabbit and Alice both enter; she watches as he dances a solo and exclaims "I'm late!"  Next, Alice appears to fall down the rabbit hole and is then immediately confronted by an 'old maid' with a large spoon, played by a male dancer. He is joined by a nurse holding a baby, and the two taunt Alice by tossing it back and forth between her and themselves while sneezing intermittently.  When the maid finally steals the baby from Alice once and for all, a clown/jester type character arrives to lighten the mood. He dances a silly pas de deux with Alice.  

Then, a group of men (performing the roles of playing cards) enters, 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 tries to revive them.  Other female dancers (perhaps more flowers?) scurry onstage and are ushered away; three cards remain and perform an ensemble dance.  Afterwards, they begin standing up the limp flowers one by one, carrying a few 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.  Eventually, the group completes its dance and all strike a final 'bloomed' pose as Alice enters, in awe of the lovely flowers.  She exclaims, "Oh, how pretty! And how sweet you all smell!  Oh, I wish flowers could talk!"  In response, the flowers all descend upon Alice, exclaiming that they can talk and ushering her offstage.

The video then goes black and when it restarts, voices are heard.  Someone sushes the others and a group of out-of-focus female dancers (more flowers?) 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, Alice seems to follow them.

The video again goes black and then cuts to a new scene in which the White Rabbit enters with his trumpet and announces the entrance of the Queen of Hearts just as Alice arrives to see her.  The Queen enters in a flurry, followed by two male dancers (lobsters); as she begins a solo at center, she is joined by additional animals, including a frog.  She exits briefly and leaves some of her animal entourage behind; Alice is curious and steps forward to interact with them.  Next, the Queen enters from the audience and jumps back down from the stage as the White Rabbit introduces Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum.  The duo enters and dances a silly pas de deux, adding Alice for a pas de trois in the middle of it.  When the Tweedles exit, the Queen approaches Alice and proclaims, "Now, Alice, it is your turn to dance."  She replies, "You majesty, I can't dance.  I don't know how."  The Queen, upset, responds, "What do you mean, you can't dance?!?  Off with your head!"  A terrified Alice agrees to try; she then dances a solo.  When she completes it, the animals surrounding her demand an encore, so she obliges.  Having overexerted herself a bit, she falls into the splits at the end and has trouble getting back up (which annoys the queen).  "What you need are some dancing lessons!" proclaims the Queen.  The White Rabbit then begins to demonstrate dance steps while Alice watches and attempts to replicate them; they then continue with a pas de deux.

When the pas de deux/dance lesson is complete, the scene is interrupted by the entrance of the caterpillar, pushing his hookah onstage as he slithers in on his stomach.  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; Alice tries to take away his hookah but he snatches it back and continues smoking, even as she chides him.  Eventually, the Queen shoos him away by once again exclaiming, "Off with your 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.  

All but the Queen complete the dance bowed on the ground, and after a brief cut in the video, they stand up slowly and begin hopping.  All but Alice huddle at center and then spread out chaotically as someone screams.  This occurs several times, perhaps indicating the arrival of a storm.  Alice exits briefly and returns with an umbrella, with which she attempts to shelter some of the animals; meanwhile, the Queen and several others seem to be blowing about the stage.  The umbrella changes hands several times and flowers enter, swaying with the weather.  The stage then empties except for Alice and the flowers, who all sway in unison; eventually, the flowers all fall to the ground, apparently drowned.  "Oh me, oh my!" exclaims Alice.

The video then cuts to post-storm revival: the flowers slowly rise up again and Alice comments, "Well, you see, that wasn't such a bad storm after all," after which all onstage flowers run into a phalanx around her, screaming.  The White Rabbit then returns excitedly and the flowers begin to celebrate with energetic dances as well.  Alice and the White Rabbit perform a very brief pas de deux and the flowers all join together for an ensemble dance.  This inaugurates the finale, during which various characters return for brief reprises and Alice performs numerous fouetté turns.

At this point, the video suddenly cuts back to the end of the storm again and continues from there.  As the finale nears its end, all clear the stage and leave the White Rabbit and Alice to dance alone together for a brief moment; they are then surrounded by others on stage (and a row also moves into the audience) and all strike their final pose.  At the last moment, the Queen runs through the stage.  The dancers all then break character and the video cuts to static.

After several moments of static, the video once again shows the stage, where the curtain is closed and children are heard yelling.  Alice, serving as babysitter, comes through the curtains and sits on the edge of the stage with a book.  The curtains then open and a group of children (mainly little girls in party dresses) jeté onstage and begin playing games.  They also sing and stomp around to "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" and play "Duck, Duck, Goose."  After more screaming and running around, one little girl gets knowcked to the ground and cries (theatrically).  Alice shoos the other children away and attends to the upset child, who almost immediately feels better and jumps back into the fray.  Eventually, all exit; one of the boys steals Alice's book and she runs off after him while yelling, "Hey, give me my book!"  A voice offstage is heard saying, "Alright..." to signal the end of the scene's rehearsal.

The video then cuts to a shot of a young boy standing center stage, who seems to be modelling a costume: he turns in place.  He exits, and a young girl takes his place and does the same. An adult shouts "Next!" and a stream of young dancers continues doing the same thing.  After about a dozen children model what appear to be party costumes, the White Rabbit (an adult dancer) appears in his costume and does the same.  He is followed by other adults in their costumes: many flowers, several playing cards, the caterpillar, the old maid, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee, the Queen of Hearts, a lobster, a snail, a turtle, etc.  The video ends there.
Additional Credit
Page, Ruth (is choreographer)
Van Grove, Isaac (music)
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)