The Caterpillar of /Alice in Wonderland/ portrayed by three dancers.

Images reprinted with permission: Barbara Edholm

The Nutcracker travels to Wonderland

Ballet Co.Laboratory has its first season showing at the Huss Center for the Performing Arts

December 15, 2018

The Huss Center for the Performing Arts has hosted many school performances such as the showing of Every(man) just last month, but never something so intricate yet absurd like Ballet Co.Laboratory’s Nutcracker in Wonderland.

Nutcracker in Wonderland is an ambitious undertaking for this ballet company’s first season, “In August 2018, if someone had told me I would soon be embarking on a journey to found a new ballet company and school, there is no way I would have believed it,” director and dancer Zoé Emilie Henrot, said in the program of Nutcracker in Wonderland. Henrot had a prominent role as the Queen of Hearts.

The white rabbit from Clara’s book watches over Clara while she is sleeping.

While the classic story of The Nutcracker is about Clara and her Nutcracker doll that represents a prince she will fall in love with, Nutcracker in Wonderland adds an additional gift of a book titled Wonderland, as the ballet adds elements from Alice in Wonderland. As Clara falls asleep reading her new book, both the Cheshire Cat and the White Rabbit (still always running late) make an appearance in her room. The significance of the Nutcracker in this rendition seems to be the joy and bravery it sparks in Clara while the book seems to serve as the transport to another curious and potentially dangerous world.  

The ballet, while featuring beautiful dancing and music similar to the original Nutcracker,  differed from the original by incorporating engaging humor. The joker from the set of cards serving as the Queen of Hearts’ guards never knew what he was supposed to be doing and Clara’s father rehearsed in a dramatic fashion how he was going to greet his guests. Flamingos- young unicyclists clad in pink- were just one of the elements in making the ballet an elaborate one, along with a contortionist who acted as a croquet ball and three dancers who together portrayed a caterpillar. 

Snowflakes with glittering crowns stole the crowd’s breath while dancing in harmony with the falling snow backdrop, slowly getting faster while the snow kept its slow pace. The rats, artfully dressed in tight black leotards, were arguably the best part of the performance, rhythmically delivering a story of chaos when trying to keep Clara and Patty away from the gates of Wonderland.

The Queen of Hearts managed to dance gracefully through malice: a scoff and a glare permanently fixed on her face. Although there is no verbal communication in performances of The Nutcracker, the iconic line she utters in Alice in Wonderland, “Off with their heads!” was made clear with the Queen of Hearts’ repeated jabs at her own neck.

Along with their movements, the facial expressions of the characters proved that stories don’t always need to be narrated: a reaction of awe as she was exposed to a new world and brave new version of herself remained on Clara’s face throughout the performance. The characters who danced with this feeling were easy to spot, but there were only a few besides Clara, her friend Patty, the Queen of Hearts, Mr. Drosselmeyer, and Clara’s father.

In August 2018, if someone had told me I would soon be embarking on a journey to found a new ballet company and school, there is no way I would have believed it.”

— Ballet Co.Laboratory director Zoé Emilie Henrot

The performance intertwined the classic stories of Alice in Wonderland and The Nutcracker in many ways, especially at the end and beginning when Clara was attached to the book of Wonderland more so than the Nutcracker doll and near the end when iconic scenes from Alice in Wonderland, like the Mad Hatter’s tea party and the solo performance of the Queen of Hearts, were accompanied by famous Tchaikovsky songs from The Nutcracker.

While the plots of The Nutcracker and Alice in Wonderland were featured in ways easy to distinguish, the ending was confusing, when all of the characters in Wonderland were sashaying with each other, along with Clara and Patty. Were they dancing in harmony because of the Clara and Patty’s good fortune escaping the Queen of Hearts and Wonderland?

Any version of The Nutcracker is quintessential for the holiday season, but a unique rendition like Nutcracker in Wonderland is a must-have, merging the storylines of stories such incredibly different tales magically.

The ballet will be showing again on Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. and on Dec. 16 at 2:00 p.m at the Huss Center.

 

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